How to Build a Protagonist

The main character in your story

What do you need? This, my friends, is the basis of every protagonist: need.

Need or what I call Deep Driving Desire is the first thing you must know when you’re writing a story be it play, screenplay, fiction or memoir.  What is your protagonist’s DDD?  Think of the story you’re writing now: Can you answer this question?

The answer is never an action: She needs to save her baby.  Action comes from need.  Or put another way: DDD leads to action.  A character that needs love, or human connection, will go through hell and high water to save her baby.  Do you see how the need forces the action—and action is what happens in your story, otherwise known as your plot.

Humankind is driven by a handful of DDDs.  One or another of these DDDs is the basis of every great protagonist ever written.  Hamlet.   Scarlett O’Hara.  Carrie.  The great DDDs are survival, health, love, justice, self-fulfillment, human connection, acceptance, power, and (some might say) sex.  Look back at my OKCupid list. You can see how every item arises from one of these DDDs—with the exception of flush toilets, and that’s why it’s funny!

So, when you are building your protagonist, as you would build any kind of structure (because a well-told story is inevitably structural) start with the DDD and go from there.

“The main question is drama is always what does the protagonist want.  Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated?  That’s the structure of drama.”

                                                                        –David Mamet

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