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  • Writer's pictureMegan DiMaria

The essential needs of your novel’s protagonist

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

Your protagonist—the main character of your novel—has some specific needs that must be addressed up front that will compel the reader to turn the page and find out more about that person.

To begin with, your introduction to your protagonist needs to connect with the reader. Your protagonist drives the story and will be the lens through which your reader “watches” the story unfold. That character must be likable, someone that the reader can relate to. If not, readers won’t spend 300 pages with your protagonist.

Protagonist needs three things right up front:

  • Obvious problem

  • Hidden need

  • Admirable quality

The obvious problem is a situation that they want to resolve. It’s what sets the ball rolling for the novel and gets the character in action. Any clear problem will work. It doesn’t have to be something huge and dramatic. It also doesn’t need to have anything to do with the story’s theme. The obvious problem only serves to reveal the protagonist and provides a vehicle for us to know the character.

The hidden need is a need that the protagonist isn’t even aware exists. The hidden need is almost always emotional and universal to the human condition and usually is a result of a wound in the protagonist’s early life/backstory. I’ve recently discovered a great resource for finding the hidden need: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus. Also, whatever it is, the hidden need is always resolved at the end of the book.

An admirable quality is what attracts readers to the character. It could be optimism or steadfastness or determination—it shows the protagonist’s strength of character. Some writers also call the admirable quality the character’s super power.

Working out these needs while you're plotting your story and keeping them in mind will help you to get off to a good start and to stay true to your character's personality.

Write on, friends!


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