1. Phoenix Hikari
    Offline

    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    6

    Characters: The Protagonist Or Main Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Phoenix Hikari, Mar 22, 2013.

    Okay, I have been reading book reviews/critiques and have come to some degree of understanding, I took notes and came up with my own conclusion about how a protagonist should/needs to be. I hope others can help me find other things that need to be added and I shall add them as bullet points for others to benefit from them.
    I merely wanted to share my ideas with you guys, so please keep this thread friendly. I have only used one source for my conclusion: Destiny unfulfilled by Jim Adam, I did not paraphrase or copy from him, his critique is Harry Potter exclusive, mine is general ideas.

    What is a Protagonist?
    We all know them as the character that has the story events revolving around them. However, there are things that qualify as static characteristics that most if not all protagonists should have. Below are some of these characteristics that can be used as a guidance to flesh the character:

    1. They are supposed to be the very main character in the story, they aren’t the smartest donkey in the world but they shouldn’t have brains equivalent to that of a squirrel. It would be a shame to try and promote other character’s genius brains on the expense of your protagonist; it would also be a shame if they are so clueless they don’t even realize they are clueless.

    2. The protagonist is supposed to be the main focus of the story, this means that they should undergo a character development during the course of the story events. If your protagonist was weak at the beginning then they shouldn’t remain weak until the end. This doesn’t mean that your character has to become a better creature. For all we know, people don’t always become better, sometimes they become worse but that is still a character development. Try to make them change, backwards or forwards is not the issue as long as they don’t remain static.

    3. They should live up to their reputation or what is expected from them. This means that if your protagonist was ‘the chosen one’ then they should live up to that title, grow in strength and finally conquer the Dark Lord with wits and nothing else. If they were a mass murderer then they should commit crimes that reflect this. If they were a prissy princess then they are unlikely to go marching into a war. Just make your protagonist what they are supposed to be, neither below nor above it.

    4. They are supposed to feel, suffer from their actions and regret wrong choices or the opposite, depending on their personality. If your character is a good person then good people can’t kill by mistake and then not regret it. They can’t cause harm to others without feeling guilt. They can’t make a wrong choice and not wish they haven’t. If they are bad people, then they have to enjoy the wrong they are doing or be angry with the world or whatever. The key is to never allow your protagonist to forget things he had done whether good or bad, they should not go through their life, doing things without thinking about them or feeling for them. They are human and not a robot.

    5. Their current actions/personality has to have a reason for being the way it is. Are they angry? Why, what happened in their past to make them like that or what is happening in their present to push them to this? If they are sad then why? If they are happy then why? We all have our personalities shaped from the past we experienced or the present we have or the future we are looking for or all three together. Your protagonist is the same, they are human and they are like you, their experiences shape their personality. Their ways of thinking shape their personality.

    6. If some side-kick characters are willing to help your protagonist then they have to deserve it or this side-kick belly button has to have a motive for this help. In life, we either help people because we care about them or because we have an exchange help-receive relationship or because we are helping so we can get something in return or to make them do something for us in the future. These side-kicks should be the same; they shouldn’t offer help just so your protagonist can get out of a problem which their brains are too small to solve alone.

    7. Never let your protagonist be under graded in a time of trouble. Unless they are a helpless princess who needs her knight to protect her. They should be able to stand on their own, as I said before. Sure, they can receive help from others or work with others in a team but they shouldn’t be the lost-in-lala-lands character. They need to know what’s going on and take actions –good or bad- to react to the situation they are in.


    Hope this is of some help to others.
     
  2. Mathieu
    Offline

    Mathieu Member

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2013
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    1
    To be honest, I prefer stories that have more than just one protagonist. Subplots can be very useful for these kinds of novels.
     
  3. Nee
    Offline

    Nee Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2013
    Messages:
    713
    Likes Received:
    23
    Or...Not.
     
  4. Xatron
    Offline

    Xatron Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2013
    Messages:
    576
    Likes Received:
    6
    I disagree with 5 of your 7 characteristics and as for the other two i only partially agree. What you are talking about is probably a protagonist in an animation or anime or some other kind of kids' and maybe YA's entertainment story. Plus i get the feeling that you are talking about a specific genre anyway. If not you are vastly generalizing.

    Especially with number 3. There exist some supernatural things called plot twists that secretly enter your books and make the stories interesting. If the protagonist always does what he is expected to at the beginning, then what is the point of reading through the second half of a book?

    And as for Harry Potter, there are both good and bad examples of characters there. Take three examples, Harry Potter, Neville Longbottom and Severus Snape. Severus Snape was the most beautifully developed character i had read in a long time. Neville Longbottom progressed equally good and with a big twist through the latter three books. Harry Potter was a poor excuse for a character that made me want to throw the books in the fireplace. Harry Potter was the protagonist but had the worst character development from them all (i guess he WAS the chosen one, just not in a good way). And even by your standards he fails as a protagonist, but critics or fans might disagree.
     
  5. Thornesque
    Offline

    Thornesque Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    456
    Likes Received:
    71
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    ^Snape is epic. :love:

    I have to agree with what everyone else is saying. You're over-generalizing the heck out of Protagonists. And, in fact, I think some of the best protagonists ever developed were the ones that break at least of your above listed "guidelines." You can't define a protagonist by those sorts of standards. The protagonist is simply the character around which a story centers. They can be good. They can be bad. They can be neutral.

    I think seven is the one that bothers me the most. I mean, protagonists do not always - nor do I think they even mostly - follow this rule. Continuing the example of Harry Potter, there were very few things that Harry did on his own. In fact, the only one that I can think is going to face Voldemort on his own, which he did twice throughout the entire series - once when he knew he had to die and wasn't going to fight him, and once when he had learned that he couldn't be killed by him (not getting into that whole long explanation). For the rest of the series, everyone else helped him. Hermione, Ron, Neville, Dumbledore, Snape, Remus, Sirius... There was never anything that Harry did on his own. So that flies in the face of that guideline.

    As for stating that a weak character cannot remain weak...I still disagree. Let's take the example of the novel 1984, by George Orwell. The main character in the novel, Winston, begins the novel by beginning to feel a rebellious urge against Big Brother and the Party - the Dystopian government that controls the entire country of Oceania. However, by the end of the novel, he's completely bent to the will of the Party. He is as devout a follower as anyone. He doesn't want to rebel anymore. He loves Big Brother. This is a dynamic character change in which things go the opposite of how you define that they should.
     
  6. Mithrandir
    Offline

    Mithrandir Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2012
    Messages:
    295
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    In the general vicinity of the Atlantic Ocean
    His guideline on that point was that they shouldn't remain the same, not that they should stay weak or strong.
     
  7. Thornesque
    Offline

    Thornesque Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    456
    Likes Received:
    71
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    Well, I guess my apologies, then. I misinterpreted his meaning. Perhaps next time, more than one example of what he's trying to portray would save the trouble.
     
  8. Phoenix Hikari
    Offline

    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    6
    I'm not sure what I said down there that made you guys misunderstand or think that I am too generalizing. So basically, a main character should remain weak? Should they not fulfill the promise the story makes? Should they remain idle when action is taking place? Should they not have opinions, a bit of brain power? Should they not change or develop? I specifically stated that a character, main or not, should change and develop whether to get better or to get worse, they still have to change as a human being because humans change along the course of their life.
    I'm not sure what you all disagreeing about and unless you misunderstand my English then I don't know why you think what I am saying is wrong when it is more like what every one preaches on the forums anyway.
    It'd be nice to have more specific explanations for why you disagree.
     
  9. Thornesque
    Offline

    Thornesque Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    456
    Likes Received:
    71
    Location:
    Michigan, USA



    Character's can't all be the same. So while they must all go through some sort of change from beginning to end, they can't always be the center of attention, they can't always do what's expected of them, they can't always be evil for evil's sake or good for good's sake. They don't always need a side-kick, nor does their sidekick need an ulterior motive to help them. And the protagonist doesn't always have to be able to come out on the winning end of a fight, or even participate in the fight. You're pigeon-holing protagonists into a certain type, which is not, in the least, how it should be done.
     
  10. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    how is using only one source on which to base a conclusion about fictional literature in general helpful [or valid] in any way?

    and what does 'under graded' mean?
     
  11. doghouse
    Offline

    doghouse Member

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2012
    Messages:
    60
    Likes Received:
    1
    Nice. I wonder if you will go so far as to write about the different archetype characters. Lets see if I can offer something of use.

    Added some notes, that maybe of some use. Feel free to ignore it though, or even ask questions.

    Some good pointers though. :)
     
  12. John Eff
    Offline

    John Eff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2012
    Messages:
    77
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Norfolk, UK
    Lists like this worry me. While they have their part to play when learning, sticking religiously to them can lead to uninspired, formulaic writing, with the author more concerned with what the main characters should be than what they are.
     
  13. Nee
    Offline

    Nee Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2013
    Messages:
    713
    Likes Received:
    23
    Snape has one of the most interesting character arcs written in the last 100 years. I am sitting here trying to think of another character that can compare and the only one I'm getting is maybe Winston Smith, 1984.
     
  14. Matt Z
    Offline

    Matt Z New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2012
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    United Kingdom

    I agree with this. People shouldn't feel forced into following lists of rules.
     
  15. Thornesque
    Offline

    Thornesque Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    456
    Likes Received:
    71
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    Certainly not. When forced to follow a particular list of rules, you end up with a very narrow series of options.
     
  16. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    if you're still around, phoenix, i'd appreciate answers to my 2 questions...
     
  17. Xatron
    Offline

    Xatron Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2013
    Messages:
    576
    Likes Received:
    6
    I also liked Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, and Raistlin Majere from The Dragonlance series.
    In 1984 i didn't really like Winston. Big Brother was the one i ended up rooting for. Maybe if he was not such a wimp.

    But seriously, in my ledger Snape is up there with Gandalf, too close to the top.
     
  18. Thornesque
    Offline

    Thornesque Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    456
    Likes Received:
    71
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    I believe that, by "under graded," he meant that the character doesn't come through. That they can't defend themself or that they seem lesser in their capabilities than everyone else.
     
  19. Phoenix Hikari
    Offline

    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    6
    Excellent points you all state, I'm glad to see that many have found some holes in the 'guide lines' I have been trying to come up with. True, there should not be any guidelines or the character would become more like a robot that has to become something in a certain way and no other. However, I should not tolerate a bad developed character. And yes, I did base my ideas on one source but that wasn't guided by other books i have read about 'writing fiction' however i don't need to cite them since the final conclusion was a mere understanding of the general idea of what protagonists or any other character should be.

    I'm not saying that these guidelines are absolute, but they do make some points that I find important in building characters. It is quite good that you guys disagree with me as my initial intention was to stir a discussion and not to present 'my perfect guidelines' there are no such guidelines.

    @Mammamaia: Under-graded means that the character is portrayed as useless or is idle in times that need action. Maybe this came out because that book I read about HP was talking about that specific character's flaws and I generalized them too much. But I still stand by that some of them do make a good point.
     
  20. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    Not to disrespect your effort, but there's only one rule - there must be a protagonist. Everything else is a generalisation and trying to come up with a formula that will never work. There is no formula. There's only a story that needs to be told. As to what kind of story it is - it is irrelevant because all the possible permutations of themes, plot, character arcs and settings vastly exceed useful quantification. Possibilities are endless.
     
  21. Thornesque
    Offline

    Thornesque Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    456
    Likes Received:
    71
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    I have a protagonist who ends up weaker by the end of the story.

    I have a protagonist who would rather blame others than accept her own mistakes and the punishments and repercussions of them.

    I have a protagonist who doesn't understand a thing about the (fantastical) world around her.

    I have a book in which there are 5 protagonists.

    I have another series in which there are, essentially, 12.

    I have a book in which the character you think is supposed to win is not the one that wins.

    I've broken just about all of your guidelines at one point or another.
     

Share This Page