Getting to Know Your Protagonist and Character Development

Getting to Know Your Protagonist and Character Development

Getting to Know Your Protagonist and Character Development

When it comes to writing a story, one of the most important things I’ve found from my experience is to know your character. I was taught at university that it's all well and good knowing what they look like, but when it comes to their development and major plot-points within a story line, you don’t want their reaction to be something a reader could consider as “out of character”. An author needs to be within their protagonists head. They need to know all of their ins and outs, what makes them tick, every nook, cranny and crevice of their mind. This all seems valid as one of the main aims of an author is to make a reader believe in their character, something not easily done without knowing them completely.

So what is the best way to do this? The process I was taught is pretty simple, you ask yourself key questions about your character, building up their backstory completely in your mind. Take a look at a couple of core questions:


  • What is their name?

  • What do they look like?

  • Where did they grow up?

  • What is their biggest fear?

  • What is their ambition?

  • What are their flaws?

  • How do they perceive others?

  • How do others perceive them?

  • Describe their childhood

  • Has there been any defining moments within their life?


I’ll admit the first couple are very top level, but as you delve down within your character you may discover things about them that could affect their decision making process further down the line. Often the deeper details (such as a childhood trauma that contributes to their personality today) are never even shared or mentioned within a story, but their influence is still their within their personality and character.

There is a distinct difference between knowing your character and developing it. It’s good to have an understanding of who your protagonist is, but you also need to understand how that character can/will change due to their environment and plotline influences. As an example, a character with great greed may not see a person of need and give them part of his wealth. They may need some defining event, a character testing moment in which the outcome is not as they expected. Only then would they see a difference needing to be made within themselves and adjust as so. You have known your character as greedy, yet circumstance or plot device has caused them to change. That is a form of character development.

Granted, this doesn’t apply to every situation. It completely depends on what type of story or style you wish you write. For example, your story could be plot driven rather than character driven. When trying to define either of these terms it becomes difficult as many writers, authors and websites have their own understanding. Here is how I view them from my own research:

Plot driven – To do with external conflict. Characters are there to move a plot from one point to another to a predetermined end. This tends to be common within mystery, crime, fantasy and romance genres e.g. the boy will get the girl.

Character driven – To do with internal conflict. Here, we are more concentrated on the character and their decisions and choices, which can make for a more unpredictable ending. If Neville Longbottom swapped places with Harry Potter the outcome of the ending I believe would have been very different due to their very different personalities and circumstances (An aspect of the story I’ve found to be heatedly debated on the internet! Go figure).

Personally, I find character driven stories a more interesting read, because I enjoy it when the protagonist is complicated, flawed and thus more believable. I feel I get to know them more and because of this I am able to relate them better, finding the story much more exciting to read.

If your views differ, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts and discuss them! It would be interesting to see which you feel makes for a better read. When I was researching into characterisation and development one phrase that really jumped out at me was from Writer’s Digest where they stated “Compelling characters are not cogs in the machine of your plot; they are human beings to whom the story happens.” Something that I will definitely try to keep in mind when writing, understanding that not every person reacts the same way within a situation. I plan on diving deeper into the idea of characterisation and how I am going to create my own soon and this entire post has now got me thinking about which makes for a better story coming first: the character or the plot?

About Jenny Eckloff

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  1. Writing a book is like being a god in a small dosis. You create your world but you also rule its fate. Great piece of work here! +1

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