Writer’s Tools: Creating a Protagonist


Every story needs a Protagonist, but not many authorities tell you the best way to create one. I’m a fan of K.M. Weiland and her book: Creating Character Arcs, so I’ll be sharing with you my version of her ideas on Creating a Protagonist.

Here’s the bullet points of her elements needed to create a protagonist:
-The Lie he believes
-The Truth he must learn
-His Wants versus his Needs
-The Ghost of The Lie
-The Characteristic Moment

I find the easiest way to create a protagonist is to actually start at the beginning of the story with their Characteristic Moment. This is the introduction of the character: name, gender, age, race/species, nationality, occupation, physical characteristics,  and the personality trait most relevant to the scene/story goal. This is the moment you want to create sympathy or interest from the reader for the protagonist. This should all be accomplished within the first few paragraphs or pages of your story.

To further develop your protagonist, you’ll need to create The Lie the protagonist believes and The Truth the protagonist must learn. The Lie will be the obstacle to what the protagonist Needs, but will also be the motivating force behind the Story Goal, which is based on what the protagonist Wants.

The Lie is the protagonist’s deeply held misconception about himself, the world, or both. The Lie is a specific belief that motivates the protagonist’s negative actions and reactions (like fear, guilt, shame, secrets, etc.) towards the Story Goal (his Wants).

The Truth is the protagonist’s Needs, usually not something physical (more of a concept/belief), but something that can take on a physical or visual manifestation by the story’s end. The Truth will transform the protagonist’s perception of himself or the world or both and lead to his better handling of his external problems. To obtain The Truth, the protagonist will eventually have to sacrifice his Wants in order to secure his Needs.

The protagonist Wants something external and physical, this is the Story Goal. Superficially, the protagonist has a problem in his life (can be external or internal) and believes if he can have what he Wants, then the problem will be solved (The Lie)… not yet realizing The Truth is the real solution.

The Ghost of The Lie will often be found in the protagonist’s backstory… it is the ‘why’ behind his belief in The Lie. The Ghost may be something horrific done to the protagonist or that the protagonist did to someone else… or something the protagonist embraces without realizing the damage it’s causing. The Ghost is the underlying cause of the protagonist’s belief in The Lie.

Once you’ve created The Lie the protagonist believes, The Truth he must learn, his Wants versus his Needs and The Ghost of The Lie within the Characteristic Moment, then you’ve succeeded in Creating a Protagonist.