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November 4, 2019



by Patrick Hurley

The best dramatic characters need or want something very badly. A writer should write about characters as they arrive at a turning point in their lives. This is most vital for the Protagonist of the piece. The moment when the protagonist is emotionally prepared or thrust into his/her adventure, is the start of the play. This is known as the Inciting Incident or Point of Attack.  

How do we define a protagonist?

Literally, at least crudely so, “pro”is a prefix meaning “for” and agonist being derived from the word agony, which means “to suffer,” therefore, a protagonist is one who is willing to suffer to get what he/she wants.

The Plot is built around the decisions and reactions of the protagonist.

An important defining feature of a protagonist is that they are the character who changes the most because of the actions in the story. This is an important distinction, and one that is a Key into the text letting you know whose story it is. Why is this important? Because the idea/theme that the writer is developing or presenting can be much more clearly seen if we can identify through which character the author is writing the story about.

Example: Who is the protagonist of Romeo and Juliet?*

Think of who changes the most, and why that feeds the meaning, or themes of the story.

Types of Characters: (This is not an exhaustive list)

Antagonist- The character directly or sometimes indirectly trying to prevent the protagonist from getting what he/she wants.  Note: The antagonist does not have to be a person. A protagonist can be his or her own antagonist.

Dynamic- A character that changes throughout the story.

Flat- A character with only one or two traits; does not change.

Foil- A character that is used to enhance another character through contrast, so the opposite of a protagonist would be his/her foil.

Static- A character who does not change.

Round- Well-developed character who demonstrates varied and perhaps contradictory traits.

Stock- A stock character is instantly recognizable because he or she is based on a cliché or stereotype.

Character Writing:

To better understand the actions of a character, we look at motivation. A character’s perception of herself will affect the way she sees the world. A character consists of three fundamental dimensions: Physiology- The character’s physical make-up; Sociology- The character’s social background; Psychology- The combination of physiology and sociology.

Now let’s explore each of these dimensions.

Physiology: Sex, age, height, weight, skin color, gender, posture, looks, defects, sexual orientation, etc.

Sociology- Class, job, education, home life, religion, political affiliation, place in community, etc.

Psychology- Moral standards, sex life, ambitions, temperament, complexes, neuroses, imagination, judgments, mental acuity, etc.

All Dramatic Actions must come from character. Understand the motivation of the characters. Every character must have a reason for why he says what he does, and every action must be deliberate and working toward the conclusion or answer to the Major Dramatic Question.

Remember: Characters are under the pressure of their environment, and should be in a constant state of flux during the rising action, so that when the change occurs at the climactic moment it is earned, which means it is surprising but inevitable.

Read more from Dramatic Guides

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