How to Use a Protagonist
In order to interest the audience with the stories you write, it’s important to have a relatable protagonist. This means that the audience should be able to connect to the protagonist’s characteristics, emotional life, or social life. However, the particulars of each protagonist are different based on the needs of the story. The best way to improve your protagonists is to read deeply and broadly – find protagonists in history, literature, and mythology, that you find particularly compelling. What attributes do they have in common? Are you more interested in heroes, anti-heroes, villain protagonists, or some combination? Once you know where your own tastes lie, you can try to craft a protagonist on that basis.
It’s often a good idea to leave a lot to the imagination. Although you want your characters to be three-dimensional, you also want the reader to be able to relate to the main character. In films and video games, this is often accomplished by allowing the main character to remain relatively generic and nondescript (think, for example, of Little Foot from The Land Before Time, who experiences emotions and is generally earnest, but otherwise has very few actual characteristics). The key is to find a few telling details that give your protagonist some texture and make him or her seem lifelike, while at the same time leaving plenty up to the reader’s imagination.
When to Use Protagonists
Protagonists are primarily a feature of novels and short stories. However, protagonists are also a great technique for writing nonfiction. The best journalists, historians, and biographers all know how to craft a compelling protagonist to make the information more readable and interesting. For example, imagine a writer telling the history of the Battle of Trafalgar. The story could be told from the perspective of Admiral Nelson, Napoleon, or an ordinary French, Spanish, or English sailor. It could even be told from the perspective of one of the sailor’s wives, or the Spanish villagers on shore watching the battle take place. Each of these perspectives would put a slightly different spin on the historical analysis.