|Protagonist, Main, and POV |
- he really is super!
Primary Point of View Character
This one is usually the easiest to identify. Who is telling the story? Through whose eyes do we watch the tale unfold? Although there can easily be many POV characters in one story, the primary one is the one who is used the most, and almost always is the one observing the main plot. Any story written in first person will feature a fist person narrator, who is the primary point of view character. This is also a necessary position in third person narratives, but sometimes is slightly more difficult to identify.
|A villain protagonist|
The protagonist is the character whose actions drive the main plot. He is the biggest catalyst driving the story, and he opposes the antagonist. This character is the "hero," or the closest thing to it. The role might be filled by a villain, such as in the recent Disney movie Maleficent, but the protagonist is always the one who is taking the most action toward accomplishing the story goal.
This is difficult to define, since it is often so closely linked to the protagonist. In fact, when most people think of a main character, their favorite protagonist immediately comes to mind. This is because the two roles are so closely linked. The main character is the character the audience is supposed to identify with and root for. This character is usually the protagonist, but not always.
Some examples, please...
|Non-main character narrator|
|Non-protagonist main character|
So, why does this matter?
Is this just an exercise in literary terminology? Is it a distinction without a difference? Are we dusting pigs ears? Maybe. For most stories, one character will play all of these roles. Movies and TV shows in particular have such a limited amount of time, and it is more difficult to develop different characters to fill these essential roles. But once in a while, you will encounter a gem of a story that changes things up. And you will be able to recognize the author's sleight of hand. Like any skill, those who are most proficient make it look effortless. Today, sub-par writers are screened out. Their books aren't published. They are not hired as writers or directors. All of the storytelling we experience comes from masters of the craft, and it is easy to forget the work that goes into a monumental task like writing a story. But as you study the inner workings of a well-written masterpiece of a story, you will begin to recognize all of the pieces and parts that make that machine work perfectly every time. All it takes is observation and understanding.
Can you think of any other stories that feature more than one character in these roles? Do you like the technical aspects of writing and storytelling, or do you prefer to read On Writing posts with a more personal spin? Let us know in the comments!
- If you would like to read more, K.M. Weiland has gone into greater detail in this post.
- John August also covers this topic, but uses slightly different terms and definitions.
- If you really want to go in-depth, Dramatica has a huge article detailing the functions of various character roles and archetypes. The first section, "Hero is a Four Letter Word," is the relevant portion, but it is all extremely enlightening, if a bit technical.
Disney's Maleficent: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/55/Maleficent_poster.jpg
BBC's Dr. Watson: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/p__/images/2/21/John_Watson-_Martin_Freeman.png/revision/latest?cb=20150522195709&path-prefix=protagonist
Samwise Gamgee: http://www-images.theonering.org/torwp/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/sam.jpg