. I had no choice. Con-tagonist isn’t a word. Okay, so neither is the
word in the title (at least not the way I spelled it), but y’all should
get the drift.
the main character (the central or primary personal figure) of a
literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative around whom the
events of the narrative’s plot revolve, and with whom the audience is
intended to share the most empathy. (Stuffy Wikipedia writer who
doesn’t mind usin’ passive sentence structure.)
I disagree with this
definition. (Scandalous!) Actually, I only disagree with the last word.
The protagonist in one of my medievals (I can’t empathize, as I wasn’t
there—no wisecracks from the peanut gallery—I have indoor plumbing . .
. the real kind), Edlynne, has big feet, is nearsighted, clumsy, and
gorgeous. (Gorgeous isn’t a problem, but how can I empathize with a gal
who has huge feet? Okay, never mind. Sigh.) Still,
the correct word is sympathize, IMO.
So, does a writer gotta get
one? (A protagonist, not a podiatrist. Well, do ya?) I think it’s safe
to say it’s obvious a writer needs a protagonist, according to the
definition. How can ya write a manuscript without a main character?
(Although I could say the same thing for the word plot,
and I’ve read many a manuscript without one. Sorry.) If you already
know ya need a protagonist, such knowledge kinda makes my column
superfluous. (Or super-fluous.) But, I made a commitment to churn it
out, so I’ll try not to bore ya. (I said I’d try . . .)
What can I say about a
protagonist y’all don’t already know? Well, in ancient Greek drama,
those theater people decided that the first actor to spit out dialogue
was the protagonist. (No, I wasn’t there either, but with my mouth, I’d
have snagged the spot every time, female or not.) But this method, in a
different form, holds true today. Although not necessarily with
dialogue, usually the first person mentioned in a story is the
protagonist. (I said usually.) There’s a trick some nasty (the bad
“nasty,”) authors use just to confuse poor, unsuspecting readers. To
what am I referring? Beware of the false protagonist.
Ah, yes. I used this device
(Guess that makes me nasty. . . . I can live with it) in one of my
Romantic Suspense manuscripts. (Did I ever mention I was a writer
before I became an agent?) A false protagonist is a red herring meant
to ensnare unwary readers, thus leading them on a dark path of
deception. (Scandalous!) The writer tries to deceive the reader as to
who the protagonist in the story really is. How? By starting the
manuscript in said character’s point of view, then lessening that
character’s role as the story unfolds.
can I lessen thee? Let me count the ways:
1. Put the character in a secondary role.
2. Make the character the protagonist of a subplot.
3. Kill that puppy. (Not literally. Y’all know I’m a dog person. No,
4. Kick the character out of the story in a way other than death.
5. Pull the old switcheroo: turn the false protagonist into the
6. Or by some other means I didn’t mention because I’ve never heard of
I’ll mention this, even though
y’all are savvy writers and already know it: Give your protagonist a
flaw or two. Nobody’s perfect. (Nope, not even me. I lack humbleness .
. .) A protagonist needs a good balance of perfection and flaws. Make
the character too strong, and there’s no room on the ole character arc
for him or her to grow. If ya make the character too weak, the reader
might not believe it when the character morphs into Hercules, or Xena:
Warrior Princess. (Yes, I know physical strength isn’t the benchmark
for character change, but wouldn’t ya rather have a gal with some meat
on her bones, or Kate Moss?—Mayhap that’s a poor example. How about a
hunk with a six-pack, rather than Pee Wee Herman?)
To wrap things up, ya Gotta Get
a protagonist, and if you’re feelin’ especially nasty or bend toward
deception (no comment), a false protagonist as well.
Until next month, miss me.