Questions to ask yourself – Part 2: The Protagonist

The main character, the protagonist, the hero: this character provides a viewpoint or lens that the reader can see the world through. The hero should have opinions, likes, dislikes, and flaws to be relatable. Although you can create a “blank slate” character that has minimal personality for readers can project themselves on to, these characters tend to be less compelling as they are not as realistic and can be difficult to motivate except through the force of will of other characters. If you do create a blank-slate hero, make sure the other characters represent more specific viewpoints so they can do all the heavy lifting that a blank hero cannot. A hero that starts out with no flaws cannot undergo a revelation and change, and so will be missing a component vital to good storytelling.

Use the questions below to get to know your protagonist from the inside out. What you discover in the process can have a profound impact on the direction your story takes.

By Eric Maika

Part 2: The Protagonist

Characterization advice for creative writers: how to create a memorable and active protagonist

What does the hero stand to gain through the story? To lose?

What is the hero’s primary motivation? (This will drive the plot momentum.)

How does the hero respond to conflict?

What type of character change (or potential change) will occur over the course of the story? Here are some examples:

  • Child to Adult
  • Adult to Leader
  • Cynic to Participant
  • Leader to Tyrant
  • Leader to Visionary
  • Metamorphosis to another physical being or nonphysical state of being

In what ways are the hero and opponent similar?

What does the hero overcome internally to achieve their goal?

What events happen in the story that force the hero to struggle toward the goal?(This will form the plot.)

When and why was the hero’s worldview knocked out of alignment?

What important events of the hero’s past affect the story in some way?

When was the inception of the hero's goal?

What is the hero's darkest secret?

How will you reveal your hero’s secret?

What does the hero want versus what do they have?

What does the hero want versus what is expected of them?

In what way(s) does the hero commit self-sabotage?

How does the hero's inner goal conflict with their outer goal?

How does the protagonist fear conflict, especially in relation to their inner or outer goal?

In what way does the hero's primary motivation conflict with the villain's?

How do the hero’s beliefs conflict with reality?

In what ways is the hero merciful? Merciless?

In the context of the story and the hero's weakness, what are some ways you as writer can be cruel to the hero?

What ways can you subject the hero to embarrassment, mortification, and shame?

How can you force the hero to deal with their weakness?

What does the hero lie about?

What good qualities does the hero have?

What could redeem your hero (even if it never happens in the story)?

Describe the main struggle of the hero in terms of the following:

  • What hero believes versus actual truth
  • What hero wants versus what they have
  • What hero wants versus what is expected of them
  • Hero versus self
  • Hero's inner goal versus outer goal
  • Hero's fear versus inner or outer goal
  • Hero versus villain
  • Hero versus mercy, or the appearance of mercy

How does the story force the hero to deal with problems they have spent their whole life avoiding?

What is the hero in denial of?

How does the motivating stimulus (inciting incident) have significance to the hero? What effect do you want the stimulus to create? What point do you want to make to the reader via the motivating stimulus?

How will you show your hero is committed to their big decision (reaction to the motivating stimulus)?

Does the character attempt the impossible/unattainable/forbidden/disastrous? How?

In what ways does the hero possess and satisfy specific emotional cravings for the reader?

What things does the hero not do that the reader wants them to do?

What things does the hero do that the reader wants to do, but can’t?


Click here for Questions to ask yourself – Part 1: Worldbuilding

World building advice for writers — questions to ask as you develop your novel's setting

Born in tourist trap, Ontario, Eric Maika moved to Victoria at age 26 and lives there with his life partner still. A lifelong learner, he is a biologist by education and a writer by necessity of imagination. He currently works in telemedicine. Accomplishments include beating Mega Man 1 and writing this biography. Check out his blog here.

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