Protagonist: Understanding Definition, Traits, Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is a Protagonist?
  2. Traits of a Protagonist
  3. Protagonist Examples in Literature
  4. How to Create a Believable Protagonist
  5. Why the Protagonist Matters

Immersing oneself in the world of literature, we often find ourselves rooting for a particular character. This character, who drives the story forward and engages us with their journey, is called the protagonist. In this blog, we will explore the definition of protagonist, their traits, and some shining examples in literature. We'll also give you tips on creating a believable protagonist and discuss why the protagonist is so important to a story.

What is a Protagonist?

By definition, a protagonist is the central character or the leading figure in a narrative, drama, movie, or any other fictional text. This character usually faces a conflict that needs resolution and is the character whom the audience identifies with.

Protagonist in Literature

In literature, the protagonist is the character that the plot revolves around. They're the one we follow, root for, and whose actions significantly affect the story's outcome. Think of Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling's famous series—Harry is the protagonist whose journey we follow throughout seven books.

The Protagonist's Role

  • Drives the Plot: The protagonist is the engine of the story. Their decisions and actions propel the plot forward. For instance, in "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins, Katniss Everdeen's brave choice to take her sister's place in the Games sets the entire plot in motion.
  • Experiences Change: Usually, the protagonist goes through a significant change or growth by the end of the story. This transformation, often due to the trials they face, makes their journey compelling. Consider how Bilbo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" evolves from a timid hobbit to a brave adventurer.

Protagonist vs. Hero

While the terms protagonist and hero are sometimes used interchangeably, they don't always mean the same thing. The protagonist is the main character, but they're not always the "hero" in the traditional sense. They can be flawed, make wrong decisions, and might not even be likable. For instance, Walter White from "Breaking Bad" is the protagonist, but his actions don't paint him as a conventional hero.

Understanding the definition of a protagonist helps us appreciate the complexity of characters and narratives. In the following sections, we'll delve deeper into the traits of a protagonist and learn how to create a believable one.

Traits of a Protagonist

Just as every human is unique, so too is every protagonist. However, there are certain common traits that many protagonists share, which help them grip the audience's interest and drive the story forward.


Protagonists often have characteristics that the audience can relate to, which helps to create a deeper connection between them and the reader. Think of Charlie from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." He's just an ordinary boy with dreams and hopes, making it easy for readers, especially children, to see a bit of themselves in him.


Another typical trait of a protagonist is courage. They may not start out brave, but as the story unfolds, they often find the strength within themselves to face challenges. In "To Kill a Mockingbird", Atticus Finch shows immense courage by standing up for what is right, even when it goes against societal norms.


Protagonists are known for their determination and will to keep going, no matter the obstacles they face. This trait is seen in Winston Smith in George Orwell's "1984". Despite the oppressive regime, he persists in his fight for freedom.


Protagonists usually undergo a significant transformation or character development throughout the story. In Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", Elizabeth Bennet's initial prejudice against Mr. Darcy changes as she learns more about him, leading to her growth as a character.

These are just a few key traits you might find in a protagonist. Remember, though, that protagonists can be as diverse and complex as people in real life. They can have flaws, make mistakes, and sometimes, even be the villain of the story. The definition of a protagonist can vary greatly depending on the story and its context.

Protagonist Examples in Literature

Now that we've looked at the definition of a protagonist and some common traits, let's dive into some specific examples from literature. These characters bring the concept of a 'protagonist' to life, showcasing how various traits and narrative elements play out in actual stories.

Harry Potter from "Harry Potter" Series

Harry Potter, the boy who lived, is a classic example of a protagonist. He's relatable — just an ordinary boy thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He's brave, taking on challenges much bigger than himself. And he grows and changes throughout the series, learning about friendship, sacrifice, and the power of love.

Jay Gatsby from "The Great Gatsby"

Jay Gatsby is a more complex protagonist. He's flawed and his single-minded pursuit of Daisy often leads him to make questionable decisions. Yet, his unwavering hope and dream of a better future make him a fascinating character that drives the narrative forward.

Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games"

Katniss Everdeen is a protagonist who embodies courage and perseverance. She volunteers to take her sister's place in the deadly Hunger Games, fights against the oppressive Capitol, and sparks a rebellion. Her character development throughout the series highlights the transformation a protagonist often undergoes.

These examples illustrate how diverse protagonists can be. From an ordinary schoolboy to a 1920s millionaire to a teenage girl in a dystopian future, each protagonist brings something unique to their story. They might not all have the same traits or face the same challenges, but they all serve as the driving force in their narratives — the heart of their stories. That, at its core, is the definition of a protagonist.

How to Create a Believable Protagonist

Creating a believable protagonist is a true craft. But don't worry, I'm here to help you break it down into manageable chunks. Let's look at a few key factors to consider:

Make Your Protagonist Relatable

One of the most powerful ways to connect your readers to your story is to make your protagonist relatable. This doesn't mean your character has to be just like everyone else — after all, Harry Potter was a wizard and we're not. But he had relatable struggles, like fitting in at school and dealing with bullies. Think about what makes your readers tick and incorporate that into your protagonist's character.

Give Your Protagonist Clear Goals

A protagonist without a goal is like a ship without a rudder. Whether it's to defeat a dark wizard, win back a lost love, or overthrow a corrupt government, a clear and compelling goal will drive your protagonist's actions and keep readers invested in what happens next.

Let Your Protagonist Grow

Change is a big part of life, and it should be a big part of your protagonist's life too. Remember how Katniss Everdeen started as a reluctant participant in the Hunger Games and grew into a leader of a rebellion? That's character growth, and it's a key element in creating a believable protagonist.

These are just a few tips to get you started. Remember, the most important thing is to make your protagonist feel real to your readers. And the more you understand the definition of a protagonist, the better you'll be at crafting one your readers will root for.

Why the Protagonist Matters

Ever wondered why the protagonist is such a big deal in every story? Well, grab a seat and let's explore this together.

The Protagonist is the Reader's Guide

In every story, the protagonist is the character who leads the readers through the tale. They're the ones we follow, the ones whose decisions shape the plot. Imagine Frodo Baggins in "The Lord of the Rings". Without him and his quest to destroy the One Ring, there would be no story. The protagonist's journey is our journey, and that's why they matter.

The Protagonist Evokes Emotion

The protagonist is also the character that readers form an emotional connection with. Think about Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird". Her innocence and perspective on the events in the story evoke strong emotions from readers. The protagonist's struggles, successes, and failures can make us laugh, cry, and cheer—making the story memorable.

The Protagonist Brings Themes to Life

Finally, the protagonist is often the character that embodies the themes of the story. In "1984", Winston Smith's struggle against Big Brother brings the theme of individuality vs. conformity to life. The protagonist helps us understand what the story is really about.

In essence, the protagonist is the heart of any story. The better you understand the definition of protagonist, the more powerful and engaging your stories can become.

If you enjoyed this blog post and want to learn more about developing compelling characters, check out the workshop 'Creating Characters: The Design Process' by Kit Buss. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques to help you create unforgettable protagonists for your stories.