The best dramatic characters need or want something very badly. A writer should write about characters as they arrive at a turning point in their lives. This is most vital for the Protagonist of the piece. The moment when the protagonist is emotionally prepared or thrust into his/her adventure, is the start of the play. This is known as the Inciting Incident or Point of Attack.  

How do we define a protagonist?

Literally, at least crudely so, “pro”is a prefix meaning “for” and agonist being derived from the word agony, which means “to suffer,” therefore, a protagonist is one who is willing to suffer to get what he/she wants.

The Plot is built around the decisions and reactions of the protagonist.

An important defining feature of a protagonist is that they are the character who changes the most because of the actions in the story. This is an important distinction, and one that is a Key into the text letting you know whose story it is. Why is this important? Because the idea/theme that the writer is developing or presenting can be much more clearly seen if we can identify through which character the author is writing the story about.

Example: Who is the protagonist of Romeo and Juliet?*

Think of who changes the most, and why that feeds the meaning, or themes of the story.

Types of Characters: (This is not an exhaustive list)

Antagonist- The character directly or sometimes indirectly trying to prevent the protagonist from getting what he/she wants.  Note: The antagonist does not have to be a person. A protagonist can be his or her own antagonist.

Dynamic- A character that changes throughout the story.

Flat- A character with only one or two traits; does not change.

Foil- A character that is used to enhance another character through contrast, so the opposite of a protagonist would be his/her foil.

Static- A character who does not change.

Round- Well-developed character who demonstrates varied and perhaps contradictory traits.

Stock- A stock character is instantly recognizable because he or she is based on a cliché or stereotype.

Character Writing:

To better understand the actions of a character, we look at motivation. A character’s perception of herself will affect the way she sees the world. A character consists of three fundamental dimensions: Physiology- The character’s physical make-up; Sociology- The character’s social background; Psychology- The combination of physiology and sociology.

Now let’s explore each of these dimensions.

Physiology: Sex, age, height, weight, skin color, gender, posture, looks, defects, sexual orientation, etc.

Sociology- Class, job, education, home life, religion, political affiliation, place in community, etc.

Psychology- Moral standards, sex life, ambitions, temperament, complexes, neuroses, imagination, judgments, mental acuity, etc.

All Dramatic Actions must come from character. Understand the motivation of the characters. Every character must have a reason for why he says what he does, and every action must be deliberate and working toward the conclusion or answer to the Major Dramatic Question.

Remember: Characters are under the pressure of their environment, and should be in a constant state of flux during the rising action, so that when the change occurs at the climactic moment it is earned, which means it is surprising but inevitable.


Author: Patrick Hurley

Graduated UCLA with his MFA in Playwriting. Is an educator and writer Constantly in search of meaning...

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