NOVEL WRITING (Protagonist vs. Main Character)
by PATRICIA NUWABIINE
Question: Who is a protagonist? How is he different from the main character? Thanks!
"Protagonist" is a term that comes from ancient Greek drama and literally means the "first actor."
For most of history, and in common parlance, "protagonist" refers to the hero or main character of the story.
However, there are plenty of stories which contain two major characters, either or whom could be considered the hero. For instance, is the hero of The Great Gatsby
Gatsby or Nick? Is the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus or Scout? Is the hero of Equus
Dr. Dysart or Alan Strang?
So it is that Dramatica theory came to define these characters separately, in this way...
The Protagonist is the character who is the primary pursuer of the story goal.
* Gatsby, who pursues Daisy and the world of money she represents.
* Atticus who pursues justice.
* Alan Strang, who pursues his passionate obsession with horses.
On the other hand, the main character is the character whose perspective the reader shares. It is often called the "point-of-view" character. In a first person novel, this is the character who narrates the story. In third person, it is the character whose perceptions the reader is privy to, as if the reader were standing in the shoes of the character.
The main character is also the character whose inner conflict the reader is privy to. The resolution of this personal struggle often determines whether the story goal is achieved.
E.g. Nick, Scout, Dr. Dysart.
As stated, the Protagonist and the main character are often one and the same. But not always.
Sometimes you want to tell the story from the point of view of someone other than the Protagonist, because you find their inner struggle more interesting. In that case you would choose a different character to be the main character.
The other advantage to doing this is that the main character can then look at the Protagonist and evaluate his/her choices more objectively.