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  1. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Main Character, Protagonist?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Taylee91, Feb 6, 2011.

    It's pretty much basic knowledge what an antagonist is in a story and what he/she/it does, but what about a protagonist compared with a main character? I've heard that they differ somehow. That one isn't necessarily the hero, but one does hold the main POV in a story. Can anyone clarify, please?
     
  2. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    The protagonist is, I suppose, the emotional centre of the piece- the character upon whom the emotional stakes rest, is at the centre of the conflict, and often the character the reader is meant to identify with. They are the character opposed by the antagonist. They don't have to be the main character in the sense of POV- the main character can be observing them for example, and narrating their story.
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Sort of like in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." :) The person narrating wasn't the same as the focused-on character.

    I think the difference you mean is between *narrator* and MC/protag?
     
  4. Honorius
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    Honorius Active Member

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    I don't know if you've ever read or watched Death Note, but it's a good example. Follows the point of view of Light, who goes around killing criminals with a magic book (I'm simplifying). However, he goes sorta power crazy, and the police don't like that he's murdering people. He essentially becomes a bad guy. But he's still the main character, the one who the focus of the story is on. The Protagonist though, is L, some Sherlock Holmes level super detective. We want L to win (well some want Light to, but that's a different issue), but we follow Light. So L becomes the protagonist, and Light the main character.

    So, Protagonist is who you want to succeed. The character that you really want to win. The Main Character is often the same person, but doesn't have to be. But the Main Character is always the focus of the story, even if the focus is a villain that we all want to stop.
     
  5. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    Sorry, no. When a bad guy is the protagonist, they are called anti-heroes.

    The main characters of a story are the protagonist and the antagonist. Not all stories have an antagonist but they all have a protagonist. The protagonist is the central character; the one that the story is about; the one that the reader identifies with.

    Far too many people think:

    good guy = hero = protagonist

    bad guy = villain = antagonist

    This is not so and you can rearrange things to your heart's desire.
     
  6. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I understand the terms, "protagonist" is just Greek for "main character", i.e, the character we follow through the story, or through a part of the story.

    Main character is not the same as point-of-view character - for example, Sherlock Holmes is the main character in his stories, but most of them are told through the point of view of his sidekick, Dr. Watson.

    Main character is not the same as "hero" - the main character may be evil.

    For a story to work, I think the reader needs to sympathise with the main character in some way, no matter how evil they are. The reader needs to be scared when the main character is in danger, and relieved when they are rescued, or there will be no suspense.

    Different parts of a story can have different main characters. For example, the first half of a story can describe how a crime is committed, and the main character is the criminal. The second half can have the detective as the main character, and describe how he solves the crime and catches the criminal. If the story works, I think the reader will in some way sympathise with the criminal when he commits the crime, then sympathise with the detective when he catches the criminal.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    goldhawk is right...

    'protagonist' isn't exactly greek for 'main character'... in many words, the prefix 'pro' means 'for' and 'ant' means against... but in this greek word it stands for 'protos' which means 'first'... and refers to the actor who plays the 'first part'... or 'first combatant' as in the first + 'agonistes'/contender who seeks the prize...

    in greek drama, the first actor to appear on stage was the 'main character' who also played other roles when the m/c wasn't on stage...

    'antagonist' is, as its 'ant' prefix suggests, the character who opposes the protagonist...

    so there's a shade of difference in the etymology of the words, but it still boils down to the fact that the main character is the protagonist and who/whatever opposes him/her is the antagonist...
     
  8. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    And don't forget that the secondary characters become the protagonist for their subplots, which may also have a different antagonist. :)
     
  9. Honorius
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    Honorius Active Member

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    An anti-hero isn't as simple as a bad guy who is a protagonist. If I story where Darth Vader was our main character, or better yet, Hitler, our main character would not be a hero. Anti-heroes are characters who are the main characters, and are good guys who do bad things. Think good cop bad cop. Good cop is a good guy, and a main character. Classic protagonist. Bad cop is a good guy, but he shoots the criminal in the knee to get information, which isn't nice. So while Bad cop is a good guy, and a protagonist, he is pretty mean. So, he's an anti-hero.

    And I side with Islander. Main Character doesn't equal Protagonist. It almost always does, but there are exceptions. Like if there was a play about Hitler. Hitler would be the main character, the focus of the story, but not the protagonist. No one wants Hitler to win. And he wouldn't be an Anti-Hero, because he'd have to be part hero to be that.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd always just thought protag = MC :confused:

    Anyway, the film Downfall illustrates your point well actually. It's WWII film focusing on 1 week before the fall of Hitler, and Hitler was certainly the central character, but most definitely neither hero nor anti-hero. Interestingly enough that film managed to get you to have a small shred of sympathy with Hitler without condoning him. Very good film.

    So a protag ALWAYS has to be good? (if as you say, Hitler could be MC but not protag) I cound anti-heroes as "good" btw.
     
  11. Honorius
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    Honorius Active Member

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    A protagonist doesn't have to be good, but he almost always will be. That's because the protagonist is the person whom we really hope will succeed. You want heroes to succeed. I guess, theoretically, someone could write a story about Hitler and want him to succeed, in which case he would be a protagonist. But the audience would be limited. So it's possible, but since most people would rather see Batman not killed by the Joker, the Joker isn't ever considered the protagonist.
     
  12. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    That's because people see Hitler as evil only. When he was first elected as Chancellor, he declared that Germany would not longer pay reparations for WWI. This had the immediate effect of lowering Germany's inflation from triple digits to double digits and made him immensely popular in Germany. It also had the effect of improving Germany's economy. During the 30s when the rest of the world suffer through the Depression, Germany had an economic boom. This allowed them to build up their war machine which lead to their quick victories at the start of WWII.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    aside from whether he's good or evil, if you were writing a book about hitler, from his pov, then he would be the protagonist and the allies would be the antagonist...
     
  14. Honorius
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    Honorius Active Member

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    Hmmm.... That caught me. My first thought was that in that case, Hitler would be the protagonist. Then again, I thought back to The Great Gatsby, which is in a third person point of view where the narrator isn't the protagonist or the main character, but still plays an active role. Yeah. I'm not really sure.

    Of course, when actually writing, the difference between the two phrases isn't really important. It's a matter of terminology.
     
  15. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Perhaps I do things that are highly unconventional, but I have written a story that has two first-person narrators. Are they both protagonists then? :)
     
  16. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    No, they would be narrators. Consider the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. In it, Dr. Watson is the narrator but Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist.
     
  17. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I see what you mean. In that case, one of them would still be a protagonist, the other one just a narrator. The funny thing is, though, that while they interact constantly, they don't know each other and only meet once.
     
  18. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    Not necessarily. A character can be both the narrator and the protagonist. This has been done before where the protagonist tells her story in first-person and scenes without her are in third-person limited.

    Labels like protagonist and narrator should only be applied after the story is written. Just write your story the best way you know how and let others worry about the labels.
     
  19. D.T.Roberts
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    D.T.Roberts Senior Member

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    The MC and protagonist can be the same character but they don't have to be. In "To Kill a Mockingbird", the protagonist is Atticus Finch, the lawyer who is at the center of the conflict. He is the one involved with the story goal, but the main character, through who's eyes we view the story, is his daughter Scout.
     
  20. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Sane and sensible. I guess I will follow that advice! ;)
     
  21. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    I do believe she would be a narrator.

    Usually a story has two MCs: the protagonist and the antagonist. But there are always exceptions. Consider G.R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. It has several protagonists and antagonists. And some of the antagonists become protagonists in latter books. Are they all MCs? It gets very confusing for those who want to apply labels.

    Just remember the golden rule of writing: Never let the rules interfere with a good story.
     

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