Is Your Protagonist Right For Your Story? Here Are 3 Ways to Check!

Have you ever read a book before where you love the plot, the minor characters, the themes, the EVERYTHING…and yet the protagonist of the story just sucks?

What in the world happened here? Why isn’t the protagonist the favorite character? What went wrong?

Today we’re going to be looking at 3 really big ways that you can make sure your protagonist is the right protagonist so that readers will love your protagonist.

Let’s get started!Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 2.39.03 PM

1. Your Best Character

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Always tell a story about your best character -John Truby

“Always tell a story about your best character” ~John Truby

Yes, guys, I thought this quote was so important that I made a cool quote out of it. (You can pin it if you want). But, guys, I did it because us writers always forget to write about our best character.

A couple of years ago, my thought process of the “best” character was the nicest. Believe it or not, because of that thought process, Anya was the protagonist of my story for a solid stretch of the road.

Then I read a bit of The Anatomy of Story by John Truby, and realized that “best” means “the most fascinating, challenging, and complex.” 


^Inspiration to use this gif goes to Julia

And after reading those 6 words, my entire book changed, because I got hit with the realization that Will was my protagonist. But why? Why not Anya? What was so wrong about her?

Because Will had a mysterious past. He had flaws. He was always struggling and fighting for something. And deep down I’d always known his story was more important because the plot twist at the end of my book was literally about Will, not Anya.

The instant I gave Anya up, the instant my story shot up in greatness.

So, what about your protagonist?

I want you to take a moment and think of all your characters. Your current protagonist if you have one, and all your minor characters who play a part in your book. Now, ask yourself: Which one do you love the most?

It might seem like an odd, pointless question, but it’s really not. If you don’t love your protagonist you’re not going to love writing a book about him.

So don’t skip around this question! Consider it very carefully. Here are two questions by John Truby that you should ask yourself while considering any character as a possible protagonist:

  1. Do I want to see him act?
  2. Do I care about the challenges he has to overcome?

If your answer is “Yes” to both of these questions, that character might just be your protagonist. To some extent, yes, we want to see all our characters act and overcome. But which one do you want to see the MOST of?

2. Who’s Story Needs to Be Told?

The biggest gap between Anya and Will was that Anya was normal. So normal that she was boring. Will, on the other hand, washed up onto Athwil’s shore with no memory of his past. Now there was a not-so-normal story!

The big questions you need to be asking here is:

  1. Who has the most changing to do?
  2. Who needs to change?
  3. And who is the most resistant to this change?

If your protagonist is some perfect magical human being…he’s not going to feel very human. Someone who has flaws, who needs to overcome these flaws, who will overcome those flaws is a human that readers want to read about. A human who readers will root for the whole way.

  • Bonus: This all completely works even for stories where you have multiple protagonists. Just ask this question that Jessica Brody gives in her Save the Cat! book: “Which of my main characters is most like my reader?” Figure out which one and that is your real protagonist.

3. Who Is the Most Interesting?

Which would you rather read about? A normal girl wandering around her village just living? Or an abnormal boy struggling in the village trying to survive?

When one character above the others seems to have a story to them, guess what? You can pull that story out and write it!

A “story” from a character can stem from:

  • A mysterious backstory
  • Flaws that they need to overcome
  • Change that needs to happen in them

I’ve been planning on doing a post on backstory sometime soon, so if anyone is interested hopefully I can branch out further on this subject. Just know for now that a mysterious past can pique readers interest so much so that it can be the difference between them picking up your book or not.

Take a look at all your characters and see which one of them has already the most interesting or potential to have the most interesting backstory in their lives. Whoever has it could quite possibly be your protagonist right there. Even if they’re the antagonist.

Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 2.39.03 PM

The moment the idea struck me to switch my protagonist to being Will, I didn’t want to do it. I can still remember sitting in my room for a solid hour, going back and forth between the two. But, finally, I relented, and decided on Will. And the moment I did all my worries about my story slid down and clicked into place, and suddenly my book didn’t seem to be so impossible anymore.

Have you ever had to change your protagonist before?

What made you change him?

Does your protagonist right now fit in with all these tips?

Is anyone interested in a backstory post?

*Sorry about not posting last week, life got crazy busy!

Like these posts? Wanna have more? Subscribe to my email list to receive inside info and lots of fun! 

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment down below.

Thanks for reading!


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Is Your Protagonist Right For Your Story? Here are 3 Ways to Check!

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30 thoughts on “Is Your Protagonist Right For Your Story? Here Are 3 Ways to Check!”

  1. Oooh, this post was so thought provoking, Mary!!! I’m already mentally dissecting each of my characters to see if I need to switch some roles around. XD Also, I’d LOOOVE to read a backstory post! That sounds so cool!! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is a really good point! It’s really boring to read books about super perfect and normal people. We want to hear about the best character.

    *cue Lego movie gif of “the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe”* 😛

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh dear 😅 I definitely did NOT want to change Anya out for Will, but I mentally thought through the plot of my book with Will as the star and realized everything came out better. So I guess if you have any, try and run through your head the plot or scenes with a different character as the protagonist and see if things still flow 👍

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Awesome post, Mary! While writing my novel work-in-progress, I realized that one of my characters, Seth, has a huge story to tell that I barely even touch on. So right now I’m seriously considering making the novel from two perspectives – Seth’s perspective and the perspective of Temira, who is my only protagonist right now. Her story definitely needs to be told and the entire premise of the book would be gone if I took out her perspective, so I’ll never do that, but I am considering adding Seth’s perspective.
    I would love to hear your thoughts on backstory. Backstory is one of the toughest parts of writing for me, because it’s so important and yet you want to avoid the dreaded “information dump.” I still need practice on that, so tips would be very helpful!
    Have a blessed day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Joy!! That’s so awesome! Heyyy, that’s a great idea! That’s totally true; the protagonist you have right now has probably shaped a whole lot of the book already. But definitely adding Seth’s perspective would work! I probably should’ve mentioned this in the post, but if that happens just introduce Temira first to the story if she’s your main protagonist, that way readers will know which one is above the other.
      Ooh, awesome! I knowww right!? I have info dumped backstory way too many times 😂 Awesome to hear, I will for sure be writing up a post on that!!
      Thank you for this amazing comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ❤❤ Lovely tips again! I’ve recently had to switch perspectives in my story too! Question: do you have any tips for organizing all your brainstorms and ideas? I’ve had so many possibly situations and scenario ideas to throw in my book, but I cannot decide on what I should put in and keep out. (If that makes any sense lol)

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    1. Thank you, Alexa!! Ah, yes, that definitely seems to happen a lot 😆 Ooh, great question! I definitely feel you on that!

      So, one tip I have is to absolutely write every possible scenario and scene down. I have a lot of story-ideas in folders on my computer for example, but I also have dialogue snippets or scene ideas scrawled in the top and bottom margins of my notebook when plotting. This helps because it gives you a super big bunch of ideas to pull from if you need motivation or if you need to fill up a plot hole. So definitely write down your every idea, no matter how big or small!

      For putting in and taking out, I can recommend a few things:

      One cool technique is to pull out a blank piece of paper and just idea-dump everything you love to see in books: villain arcs, betrayals, fantastic death scenes, epic magic fights, etc. Once you do that, consider if any of it would fit into your book’s story and genre. If something doesn’t seem to fit, cross it off the paper. You’ll end up with a cool list that can help guide you in deciding which of your scene ideas you’d probably want to include and not include in your story. While you’re totally not restricted to just these ideas on the list, it may or may not help chop down some the possible situations you’d want to include, so it’s definitely worth a shot!

      Secondly, a good rule of thumb is to chop out anything cool for the sake of cool. I used to throw in random fights scenes while writing ’cause hey! Those are cool! Readers will love it! But they only served to drag down my plot, so just keep an eye out for that.

      And actually, this ties into my third and biggest tip, which is to only include things which can a) further push the plot forwards and b) help your protagonist reach the end of his arc (I’m not sure if your character has an arc, but this is basically just keeping in mind the idea of getting them to the point where they’ve changed for the better). A good way to know if you’re doing this right is to plan out your ending. That way, everything you write down will always be heading exactly where you need it to go. And if you’re ever concerned about whether something should be in there or not, just ask yourself if this event or idea etc. will still drive your plot or character to the ending of your book or to the ending of your character’s arc in some way. If it does, you’re free to keep it! If it doesn’t, then it’s hindering the plot’s pace and your protagonist’s journey to truth, so you’re probably going to want to cut it out.

      Okay! Sorry that that was a lot to read. Let me know if that made any sense or was helpful in anyway, and if you had any other questions! 😄

      Liked by 1 person

      1. AHHH! Mary, thank you so much for these tips! That is so true! *Pulls out notebook and dedicates a page to be my “bunch of ideas page”*
        That’s a great idea! I’m going to do that right now! I had a ton of epic fight scenes and situations I had written down but I love the crossing them out idea!
        These tips totally made sense! Thank you SO much Mary!!! You are a lifesaver! <33

        Liked by 1 person

      2. AHH, you’re so welcome, Alexa!!! Haha awesome!!
        Totally!! I hope it helps!!
        Oh my goodness, I’m so glad I could be of help!! 😊 This comment totally made my day ☺️

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, I think this would be most useful when I have more than one protagonist in my story and figuring out the one who is the most important to follow. If it is one POV, that character who should be the protagonist generally seems to show up first for me. I don’t know how, they all just the most interesting with the most interesting backstories and I love them above all of the other characters so I’m pretty confident in these choices of protagonists. I had one story idea where I was just exploring it and not planning it to be a story and it had the wrong protagonist but once I decided to make it into a story I automatically picked the character who was the most interesting to me, loved his journey the most, and who happen to have a tragic backstory too as the new protagonist. I think I got that one right for sure. XD
    Loved all of these tips. Very insightful!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Attention lovely blog readers: MARY HAS DONE IT AGAIN!!!!!!!!!! *applause and cheering fills the blogging kingdom* *dumps Mary with chocolate*
    But seriously, girl, L O V E D THIS POST!!!!!! Characters are THE most amazing part of a story and I’m always excited to read AWESOME character post!!!!!!! And personally, I’m sooo glad you made Will your new protagonist!! He just seems like SUCH an AMAZING character!!!!! So I don’t think I’ve ever changed a protagonist before, but I can DEFINITELY say some of my earlier stories would’ve definitely needed it if I had continued with them. Hahaha, the funny thing was as I was reading your post I was double-checking that Keenum and Colin fit in with all the tips and I think they do. (Also, this post was at THE perfect time since I’m preparing to start a new novel this week now that I am *almost* finished with Heir to His Crown and have been doing a lot of focus on developing the main characters!) Oooh, and I would DEFINITELY be interested in a backstory post!!!!!!!!!! <3333

    Liked by 1 person

    1. *gasps super loudly as I dramatically clutch my heart as tears roll down my cheeks* Ch-chocolate! And a blogging kingdom! BUT CHOCOLATE-
      But other than that…THANK YOU ISSABELLE!!!! Yess, characters are totally the most amazing part of a story!! Ahh thank you!!
      Okay, like, YES, I’m sooo glad myself that Will is my protagonist now. Thank you!! I’m so glad he does!!!
      Ooh, yeah, I totally get that! Ahaha, that’s awesome though!! So glad that they fit!! GO KEENUM AND COLIN!!
      *super huge gasp* A NEW NOVEL? Ahhh, and finishing Heir to His Crown!!! That’s suppppper exciting!!
      Wooo, awesome, I’m SO doing that post hopefully soon!!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Awesome advice, Mary!! I’ve had to switch up protagonists before, and you’re right, it was hard. Lots of going back and forth. 😝 But now I’m so glad I did; my original protagonist was a little too… goody-two-shoes, for lack of better word! He’s changed a lot now, but I can’t imagine going back to the way it was before. 😆
    I would love to see a post on backstory! That’s something I struggle with. I normally just opt with putting it all at the beginning of my story, that way it’s all in chronological order and the reader just knows what happened. But… that’s kind of boring honestly. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Chalice!! OKAY YES, I can sooo relate! Anya was total goody-two-shoes! Woo, that’s awesome!!
      OoO, okay, I will be posting that hopefully sometime soon then! Agh I know right? I totally get that 😆


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