Protagonist – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Screenwriting Glossary Terms

I. What is a Protagonist?

A protagonist is the central character in a story, often seen as the hero or heroine. They are the character that drives the plot forward and is usually the character that audiences root for or empathize with. The protagonist is typically faced with challenges or obstacles that they must overcome in order to achieve their goals or desires. They are the character that the audience follows throughout the story and whose journey is the focus of the narrative.

II. Characteristics of a Protagonist

There are several key characteristics that define a protagonist:

1. **Goal-oriented**: A protagonist typically has a clear goal or desire that they are working towards throughout the story. This goal is what drives their actions and decisions.

2. **Complexity**: A well-developed protagonist is multi-dimensional and has flaws, strengths, and internal conflicts that make them relatable and interesting to the audience.

3. **Arc**: A protagonist often undergoes a transformation or growth throughout the story, known as a character arc. This change can be emotional, psychological, or moral, and is essential for the protagonist to feel dynamic and engaging.

4. **Agency**: The protagonist is an active participant in the story and has agency, meaning they make choices and take actions that impact the plot and other characters.

5. **Empathy**: The audience should be able to empathize with the protagonist and understand their motivations and struggles. This emotional connection is crucial for engaging the audience in the story.

III. Importance of a Strong Protagonist

A strong protagonist is essential for creating a compelling and engaging story. Here are some reasons why a well-developed protagonist is important:

1. **Audience Engagement**: The protagonist is often the character that audiences connect with the most, so having a strong protagonist can help keep the audience invested in the story.

2. **Conflict and Tension**: The protagonist’s goals and desires often lead to conflict and tension in the story, driving the plot forward and keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

3. **Character Development**: Through the protagonist’s journey and growth, the audience can learn important lessons or insights about themselves and the world around them.

4. **Theme Exploration**: The protagonist’s struggles and choices can help explore deeper themes and ideas within the story, adding layers of meaning and complexity.

5. **Memorability**: A strong protagonist is often what audiences remember most about a story, making them a crucial element in creating a lasting impact.

IV. Developing a Protagonist

Creating a well-developed protagonist takes time and effort, but it is essential for crafting a compelling story. Here are some tips for developing a protagonist:

1. **Backstory**: Give your protagonist a rich backstory that informs their motivations, fears, and desires. This will help make them feel more three-dimensional and relatable to the audience.

2. **Goals and Obstacles**: Clearly define your protagonist’s goals and the obstacles they must overcome to achieve them. This will create conflict and tension in the story and drive the plot forward.

3. **Flaws and Strengths**: Make your protagonist flawed and imperfect, as this will make them more realistic and interesting. Show both their strengths and weaknesses to create a complex character.

4. **Character Arc**: Plan out your protagonist’s character arc, including how they will change and grow throughout the story. This transformation is essential for creating a dynamic and engaging protagonist.

5. **Relationships**: Develop your protagonist’s relationships with other characters in the story, as these interactions can reveal more about your protagonist’s personality and motivations.

V. Types of Protagonists in Screenwriting

In screenwriting, there are several types of protagonists that can be used to create different types of stories. Here are some common types of protagonists:

1. **Traditional Hero**: The traditional hero is a morally upright character who embodies virtues such as courage, honor, and selflessness. They often go on a quest or journey to defeat a villain and save the day.

2. **Anti-Hero**: An anti-hero is a protagonist who lacks traditional heroic qualities and may even have morally questionable traits. They are often flawed and complex characters who struggle with their own demons.

3. **Everyman**: The everyman protagonist is an ordinary person who finds themselves in extraordinary circumstances. They are relatable to the audience and often represent the average person facing challenges.

4. **Tragic Hero**: The tragic hero is a protagonist who is doomed to fail due to their own fatal flaw or hubris. Their downfall is often inevitable, leading to a sense of tragedy and catharsis for the audience.

5. **Female Protagonist**: Female protagonists are central characters who are women, often breaking stereotypes and challenging traditional gender roles. They can be strong, complex, and empowering characters in their own right.

Overall, the protagonist is a crucial element in storytelling, driving the plot forward and engaging the audience in the journey of the central character. By creating a strong and well-developed protagonist, writers can craft compelling and memorable stories that resonate with audiences.