The Four Things Your Protagonist Needs In Your Story

I’ve been re-reading Screenplay by Syd Field lately as I gear up to write my first screenplay (I’m currently in the early developmental stages of it). Now that I know craft as well as I do, I love to read badass books on craft, because it really refines and clarifies and expands my current understanding of how stories work and how to write them.

Creating characters–and especially your Protagonist–is one of the big reasons why I love writing stories. I have a deep desire to understand the human mind and the human condition, and why people do and think the way they do.

And a story is nothing if not a study of the human condition.

But this is where a lot of fiction writers fall off track. Because while a story is about a character, that’s not the whole story. There’s so much more to it than that.

If you don’t know this or haven’t implemented it properly in your story, what you’ll end up with is an episodic narrative that gives the day-to-day account of a character’s life. Almost like a journal.

The reason it’s episodic narrative as opposed to an actual story is because there’s no definitive end point. You could just keep going, writing forever about what happens in the character’s life.

But that doens’t make it a story (OR a series of stories).

What makes it a story is that it has a character who wants something, another character who opposes what the other one wants, and a journey ensues toward a resolution.

And that’s just the starting point.

Your character needs to be three-dimensional, so they feel like a real person and are believable as a real person. Otherwise your reader won’t be able to empathize for them.

Without reader empathy your story is dead in the water.

As I’ve been reading Screenplay, I’ve loved gaining further clarity on creating a character–in this case, a Protagonist–and how to really bring them to life.

There are four essentials to creating a three-dimensional character and making them compelling and someone readers can empathize with.

1. Goal–this is what your Protagonist wants in the story. It’s the whole enchilada. This is the reason we’re even reading the story or watching the movie to begin with.

The main character has a goal and we want to watch and cheer them on as they go up against an Antagonist to achieve the goal (or have another goal introduced by the Antagonist, which then causes the character to have to overcome that before being able to achieve the initial goal).

2. Point of View–this is the internal landscape of the character. It’s what they believe about the world and themselves and their backstory. This is where you really have to go deep on what makes the person tick. And beliefs are the core of what makes up a person.

It’s true that what you believe you become, and the same thing works in fiction. So what beliefs does your Protatonist have and how has this shaped the way he sees the world and himself?

This is also where the character’s inner demon will come into play.

3. Attitude--this is the external aspects of your character. It’s how he presents himself to the world and the opinions that he holds. It’s his mannerism and way of being.

This is where you’ll figure out how your character acts or would act when presented with certain scenarios and situations.

4. Transformation–this is the overall change the Protagonist makes in the story. It’s when they’ve finally overcome their inner demon(s) and defeated the Antagonist.

This is the other thing a reader comes to a story for. To watch a character go through hell and come out victorious or at least changed for the better.

What transformation does your character make in your story? And how does that transformation stem from dealing with and overcoming the inner demon and Antagonist?

Creating compelling, interesting, engaging and empathetic characters is what will bring your story to life on the page. But you can’t just write a day-to-day account of their lives or even a specific time in their lives.

You have to write about a character with a specific need or goal they must achieve and the journey that ensues toward a resolution when another character steps into the story and tries to stop them from achieving the goal, or creates an entirely new goal for them to have to acheive before they can achieve the original one.

Do that and you’ll have yourself a story that’s actually worth reading.

Dream life or bust,



#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. I’m currently accepting new email story coaching private clients. Spaces are very limited. If you want to work privately with me to plan and develop the idea in your head into a fully fleshed out story plan that you can use to write your first draft–or you want to rework a story you wrote that’s not quite working yet–send me a PM right now and I’ll send you more info about how you can work with me.

Structure and Character Arc 101

A very common mistake writers make is thinking character is separate from plot or that plot can work without a proper character arc and vice versa. Not only is that not true, but believing that will greatly affect your story.

Here’s a video overview of story structure, character arc and how the two play together to create a cohesive and engaging story for your reader:

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What are your favorite inner demons to give to your characters? 

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The Dos and Don’ts of Naming Your Characters

NOTE: This is a guest post from Writer’s Relief, a popular author submission service. 

Authors often put as much thought into naming their characters as parents do into naming their children. A character’s name will shape the reader’s entire impression of him or her and ultimately factor into the reader’s opinion of your book. Whether naming your characters comes to you naturally or you spend days poring over baby name books for inspiration, here’s a list of dos and don’ts that will make the process painless!


Consider the story’s setting. Choosing a name outside traditional historical context can ruin an otherwise well-researched novel or story. Writing about a German stowaway during the Holocaust? Make sure to give her a traditional German name. And a boy growing up in Japan during the 1800s is unlikely to be named Atticus. Keep in mind: Some cultures historically used naming traditions quite different from what we see today.

Consider the character’s age. Be sure to take into account when your character was born. Look up names that would have been popular during that time period—so you can avoid inadvertently labeling the character with the wrong name. “Gertrude” was all the rage for babies in 1907, but very few of today’s twenty-somethings would have that name.

“Borrow” from friends, family, or celebrity heroes. Know someone with the same traits as your character? Let the real-life person inspire the name of your fictional character! Just be careful not to borrow more than the person’s name. Your character, even if they share a name with someone real, should be totally unique.

Think about personality. A character’s name can be a great way to acquaint readers with their personality traits—before any of these traits are overtly revealed. For example, the name “Bill” immediately conjures someone ordinary, whereas “Alexandria” brings to mind someone regal and extravagant. Make sure your character makes the right first impression.


Repeat the same first letter for too many characters’ names. If the names of two characters sound too much alike, your reader is bound to get the characters mixed up, even if their personalities are nothing alike. Give your characters names that are distinctive from one another to avoid any confusion.

Use an illogical name without an explanation. Say you’ve chosen to name your thirteen-year-old character “Bertha,” a moniker typically considered old-fashioned and better suited to an older demographic. This choice could work in your favor—but if you don’t properly explain the circumstances behind it, your readers may be distracted through your entire book. The same goes for discrepancies in time, personality, and setting when choosing a name.

Pick an overused or over-the-top name. Certain names have been used, both in life and in literature, to the point where they’re well past tired. For example, most readers will have read at least five other books with a hero named “Jack.” But don’t jump to the other end of the spectrum either—Rosalina Rossignolo and Cornelius Coriander may not be taken seriously as realistic characters.

Fail to do your research! You don’t want to realize you’ve chosen the wrong name after your book is already in print. You also don’t want to learn suddenly that a similar book character (or movie character, or even real-live person) has the same name. To save yourself embarrassment, do an Internet search for any character name you’re toying with before bestowing it upon a character in your book.

And if you’re STILL INDECISIVE… 

Use a reference source. Head over to for a comprehensive list that includes statistics, history, and definitions. You’ll find the perfect names for your characters in no time.

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How do you find names for your characters? 

About the Author: Writer’s Relief is a highly recommended author’s submission service. We assist writers with preparing their submissions and researching the best markets. We have a service for every budget, as well as a free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit our site today to learn more.

If you’re struggling with finding names or just want to have a resource on-hand for naming characters, check out Pen Name by Jennifer Blanchard. Not only is this book great for finding your perfect pen name, but it doubles as a resource for naming characters too.

Image courtesy of Jack Dorsey