The classic definition of a protagonist is the character who is the focus of the overall narrative and undergoes the most significant change. A literary protagonist is rarely ever considered to be morally “good.” Literary protagonists are complicated and will often challenge the reader’s concept of “good” and “bad.” Keep in mind that the best literary protagonists are usually also their own antagonists to some degree–i.e. person versus self. You might have more than one protagonist, such as in Tom Perrotta’s novel, Little Children.
Burroway’s Writing Fiction addresses the universal paradox and the necessity of individuality, especially in main characters such as protagonists and antagonists:
Though critics often praise literature for exhibiting characteristics of the individual, the typical, and the universal all at the same time, I don’t think this is of much use to the practicing writer. For though you may labor to create an individual character, and you may make that character a credible example of type, I don’t think you can set out to be “universal….” Writing in generalities and typicalities is akin to bigotry—we see only what’s alike about people, not what’s unique. When effective, a description of type blames the character for the failure to individualize, and if an author invariably wants to condemn or ridicule those types….. (Writing Fiction)
Protagonist Writing Exercise No. 1: Schematics
Download and complete The Character Arc: Protagonist.
Click on the above link and open the document. Save the document to your hard drive. Follow the directions and the writing assignment as given, step by step, in this document. Take one section at a time. Try not to skip forward to a later section. Let your discovery process build. We are focusing only on the protagonist for this week. We will focus on the main antagonist next week, along with additional antagonist versus protagonist considerations. Please submit both your completed Character Arc and following Narrative Exploration by the Sunday due date.
Protagonist Writing Exercise No. 2: Narrative Exploration
Now that you have explored your character schematically and individually, aside from whatever intention the longer work may have had for the character, you are ready to flesh your character out in his or her own narrative. Write a 1000 word scene or flash fiction about your character. You might center this short short narrative on one of the schematic arc details—i.e. worst or best night. This story must not already be part of the written words in your longer work. This must be new, whether or not you’ve already been thinking on this event in your character’s history.
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A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.
“Cogito et Histoire de la Folie.” Jacques Derrida.
The Elements of Style. William Strunk.
New Oxford American Dictionary. Edited by Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg.
The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Martin Puchner, et al.
The Norton Introduction to Philosophy. Gideon Rosen and Alex Byrne.
Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. Patricia T. O’Conner
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.
Writing the Other. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.