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The Confusion between Main Character and Protagonist

Over at the DoneDealPro Messageboard, (where I’m called out for giving “horrifically bad information”), there is a discussion going on regarding the differences between the Main Character and the Protagonist.

In the past, the terms Protagonist and Main Character were used interchangeably. This represents an old way of thinking, in much the same way that many considered the Earth the center of the universe or that witches were made of wood. This way of thinking must be dissolved if the art of storytelling has any intention of growing beyond the stifling Hero’s Journey paradigm.

I’ve covered this before in my articles on Main Characters that are not Protagonists and the differences between the two, but the concept itself is really quite simple:

  • Main Character is a point of view
  • The Protagonist pursues the Story Goal

Sometimes these two are the same, as in the case of Star Wars or District 9, and sometimes they are not, as evidenced by To Kill A Mockingbird or The Shawshank Redemption. One way is not any better than the other. However, it is important to understand the difference between the two if you want to know what is really going on inside of a story.

One represents the Objective Drive (Protagonist) in the story, the other represents the Subjective Drive (Main Character). Blending the two is helpful and perhaps even necessary in more entertainment-driven works of fiction like animated films or sci-fi action/adventures. But it is in quieter, more subtle and dare I say, more meaningfully complex films like The Lives of Others or The Counterfeiters, that such old ways of thinking prove their uselessness.

Dictionary entries are great for Scrabble, not for fiction.

Never trust a Hero.

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