Protagonist: Every story will have one. The protagonist is the main person in your story. He or she (or they) is faced with a conflict that must be solved by the end of the novel (or you have some unsatisfied readers!). The protagonist may not always be 100% likable or completely honest and trustworthy (e.g., an anti-hero); but readers should feel empathy for the protagonist and be able to identify with him or her in some way.
Tips for Building Your Protagonist:
- Watch out for stereotypes—it is okay for a protagonist to be smart or not, funny, popular, likable, friendly, pretty—as long as it fits your story.
- Give your character a flaw or two, but watch out what you give them. Messy is good, a hoarder—depends on the genre.
- Your main character has to have a goal and be someone that your reader can get behind.
- Your protagonist needs an internal struggle (stage fright, cheating tendencies, low self-esteem, OCD) and an external struggle (fighting a bully, breaking up with someone, destroying an evil spirit, getting the lead in the play).
- Your protagonist has an overall goal for the book. Ask yourself: What does your character want or hope to achieve? If he or she could achieve anything with no obstacles, what would it be? EXAMPLE: Harry Potter wants to pass his first year of wizarding school & play Quidditch, winning the cup for Gryffindor.
Of course, we love the protagonists. These are the characters we pretend to be. But then there are those characters we love to hate...
Antagonist: This is the character(s) (or situation) that opposes the protagonist. So basically, the antagonist represents or creates an obstacle, problem, or issue that the protagonist must overcome. The antagonist is NOT always human. Sometimes, it's nature. Sometimes, it's ourselves (addiction, for example). But for the purposes of this post, we are focusing on the human or paranormal bad guy.
Tips for Building Your Antagonist:
- Remember, your antagonist’s main reason to be in your novel is to provide an obstacle for your protagonist. EXAMPLE: Dorothy (our protagonist) in The Wizard of Oz wants to get home (goal). The Wicked Witch wants her shoes (the way Dorothy gets home). She provides an obstacle, plus a lot of drama!
- Your antagonist should not be evil for no reason OR should have a redeeming quality. EXAMPLE: Voldemort rewards loyalty, and he is a smart, talented wizard who uses his intelligence for evil. But he had a very bad childhood. (Side note: Watch out for the “ABUSED” reason, as it is a common one, for why someone is evil.)
- Give your antagonist a back story, so you can understand this person, even if all the background doesn't make it in the novel.
- Get to know your antagonist. What is your antagonist’s internal and external struggle? What is your antagonist's goal? Make a special note of any likable traits and his/her weakness (greed, self-love, power-hungry, etc) or anything special that happened in his/her past to make this person the “bad guy.”
It's important to really think about how your antagonist and protagonist work together to tell your story. A good "match" will make a very powerful novel or series. And who knows? Maybe your pair will go down in history with the best of them... Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Katniss and President Snow, Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West, and insert your characters here.