Novel Writing

Establishing your Protagonist

In my blog post earlier this week, I talked about how Stacey Wilk had given me an editorial perspective on my first five chapters. Her input was excellent, I have already learned a lot from her guidance. Today I have researched protagonists and how to demonstrate who is the protagonist in my novel.

I have five characters that I introduce in the first five chapters of my work in progress (WIP), and Stacey had trouble working out which character is my protagonist. I won’t lie; I wasn’t overly familiar with the term, but thankfully Grammarly’s Blog has a fantastic definition –

What is a protagonist? The word comes from ancient Greece. An actor who played the chief role in a drama was a protagonistes. The prefix proto- means to “first,” and an agonistes was an actor or a competitor in a contest.

In English class, when you hear the word protagonist, you’ll probably be discussing a work of literature. (Films also have protagonists.) The most common definition of protagonist is the leading character of a drama or literary work. You can see the relation to its Greek root word in the sense that the character is important in the plot. Sometimes, the term hero refers to a male protagonist. Heroine refers to a female protagonist. Champion is another synonym of protagonist.

After reading this I knew who my protagonist was (always helpful!), and so I started to wonder what the best way to establish your protagonist is, here is what I have found.

Your protagonist should face the largest challenge and hold the biggest burden in your story.

At first, I was puzzled by this; surely my main character is the character I like the most? What does challenge or burden have to do with it? Then I thought a bit deeper. My main character faces some extreme challenges. Here are just a few of those challenges to give you an idea; she witnesses a murder, is held hostage, and has her baby kidnapped moments after birth.

Without me realizing what I was planning my main character HAS been given the biggest challenges. The question remains, how do I show who my protagonist is?

Show the events through your protagonist’s eyes

I have recently been researching Deep Point of View, and this is how I have chosen to write my novel. It will involve a little rewriting as I didn’t have a clear POV set from the start but I feel it will be worth it. I have decided to rewrite scenes with an omniscient point of view and change them to show the deep point of view of my protagonist. Hopefully, this will clear up some confusion and show my readers who they should be rooting for.

Show your character in danger or pain

We naturally feel pity for anyone at risk or in pain, and so, a good way to encourage your readers to like and enjoy your protagonist is to give them a little of bit emotional trouble or suffering. Deep point of view is helpful in this instance as you can write from your main character’s viewpoint and build empathy within the difficult situation.

What about you? What do you do to cause your readers to love your characters from the start? Any tips from experienced writers are most definitely welcome.


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