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How to Write a Book Summary

main character in creative writing

When a teacher or anyone else asks you to write a book summary, he or she is requesting that you read a book and write a short account that explains the main plot points, characters and any other important information in your own words. The reader of your summary should have an understanding of the book without having ever read it. Many teachers and professors ask students to do this to ensure they read and understand the material they’ve assigned. If you’re currently working on your first book summary, here’s how to do it:

Know the Assignment and Choose a Book

Before you get started, you need to know what your teacher expects from you. Did he or she assign a particular book, or can you select you own? you’ll also need to know how long the summary should be. Your teacher may want it to be at least a page or two or so many words so that you can show that you really understood what you read.

Start Reading and Take Notes

As soon as you have the book in hand, whether your teacher assigned it or you chose it yourself, you should grab a pen and notebook to keep with you at all times. Anytime you read a chapter or two, you’ll want to take notes about what you read. Make a list of the characters and their problems and goals. Keep an outline of the plot. Remember, you’re not rewriting the book entirely — just picking out the most important details and retelling them in your voice. You can also make note when you find something interesting or you see something you need to understand better.

Create an Introduction

Once you finish the book, you should have a few pages of notes and a good understanding of what happened, who the main characters were and all of the important plot points. Now, it’s time to start writing the summary. you’ll want to start with a strong introductions that tells the reader exactly what you want them to know. Be straightforward about the title and author of the book and give a general idea in a sentence or two of what it’s about. You may want to introduce a setting here too. For example, if you read “Gone with the Wind,” you may start with something like “Set during the Civil War, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is an epic novel that tells the story of a young Southern woman in Georgia, her love affairs and her attempts to save her family plantation while the South burns down around here.”

Organize Your Notes to Create the Body

Once you’ve introduced the book with a few sentences, it’s time to write the body of the summary. This is where you’ll turn to your notes. If you didn’t create an outline before, now is the time to do so. Organize your points in order in paragraph form. The ultimate goal is for the reader to know exactly what the book was about, even if he or she has never read it. Try putting yourself in the reader of your summary’s shoes. What would you need to know to understand what the book was about? Once you’ve finished the body, add a conclusion that gives the reader an understanding of significance of the book. Did it teach a lesson, or was there a moral to the story? Were there themes present throughout the book?

Edit and Proofread

Once you’ve finished, read over your summary a few times to make sure it makes sense. Not only do you want to check for spelling and grammar errors, but you’ll want to make sure the description flows from point to point and makes sense. Try reading it out loud to yourself to see how it sounds when you hear it. Read it a friend or family member to see if they can provide any feedback. Once you’re certain it’s complete, you can turn it in to your teacher or professor.


main character in creative writing

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What is a Protagonist? || Definition & Examples

"what is a protagonist": a literary guide for english students and teachers.

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What is a Protagonist? Transcript (English & Spanish Subtitles Available in Video; Click HERE for Spanish Transcript)

By Liz Delf and Marisa Williams

What is a protagonist?

The very short answer is that the protagonist is the main character. That definition works well as a shorthand version, but let’s add a little more nuance.

The protagonist is the character who drives the action--the character whose fate matters most.

In other words, they are involved in —and often central to—the plot or conflict of the story, but are also usually the emotional heart of the narrative.

Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint who the protagonist is in a story. For example, the graphic memoir Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is about the Iranian Revolution, and it explores questions of identity, state violence, and feminism. At the heart of the story, though, is young Marjane herself. The plot is centered on her experience as a young woman, and the emotional climax of the memoir is her grief and anger over the death of her friend.

While naming the protagonist of Persepolis is pretty simple, that’s not always the case. Sometimes identifying the protagonist can be a little more complicated.


main character in creative writing

At this point, let’s add another characteristic of the protagonist: THEY CHANGE. They usually make choices, take actions, and are altered by the repercussions.

This might just be another way of saying that they are the emotional heart of the story, but it’s worth flagging as a key point. In some literary fiction, there’s not a big twist or surprise, and it can be hard to identify the point, let alone the main character. Try asking yourself: who changed in this story? Who started in one place and moved (emotionally, mentally, relationally) to another? THAT is often the point of the story.

Here’s another example: the story “The Things They Carried” is about a platoon of soldiers in the Vietnam War, and intimate details are shared about each of them. However, it’s really a story about Lieutenant Jimmy Cross: he starts in one place—distracted and loving a girl back home—and ends in another—letting go of his feelings in order to be a better and more focused soldier. The emotional climax of the story comes when he burns her letters, which he’s been carrying for months. It’s a war story, yes, but it’s also a coming-of-age story about the protagonist, Jimmy.

Here’s another place where it can be a little tricky to identify the protagonist: when the title misleads you.

Some stories and series are named after the protagonist—the Percy Jackson series, the Roald Dahl book Matilda .


main character in creative writing

BUT that isn’t always the case! Moby-Dick , for example, is the name of the whale. While a whale might drive a plot, it certainly isn’t the emotional heart of this story; Melville’s novel is really about the men on the ship. The Wizard of Oz is another familiar example—Dorothy is clearly the emotional heart of that story, and the one who changes as she comes to appreciate the home she left behind. No one really cares about the Wizard’s emotional growth.

Very rarely, there can be more than one protagonist, as in Romeo and Juliet . We see both perspectives, both characters change, both makes choices and take action—and both of their fates are central to the tragic nature of the play.

One final point: while the protagonist is often the hero, that’s also not always the case. In fact, we’re all pretty familiar with the ANTI-hero protagonist these days, because it’s been so common on recent TV shows; this is a protagonist who lacks traditional heroic qualities (like bravery or a strong moral code). Think of Walter White on Breaking Bad , or in a more literary example, Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello .


main character in creative writing

So the protagonist doesn’t have to be relatable or likable; even if you don’t want to be their friend, they can still be the protagonist.

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing Compelling Characters

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

For readers to connect with a character, they generally need to know at minimum three things about that character: a physical trait, a personality trait, and a goal. This resource will help you consider your options carefully as you use these traits to make your characters memorable and compelling.

Written by Carey Compton.

Characters and Goals

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Characters should almost always have clear goals, even if these goals are not immediately made obvious to the reader. Without goals, characters lack motivation—that is, they have little reason to do anything interesting. For this reason, many writers connect the main character's goals to the main conflict in the story. This generally means that the main obstacle to those goals plays a key role in the plot as well (for instance, in the form of a villain). Often, the main character is most interesting and when confronting his own shortcomings in pursuit of his goals.

There are a few ways to construct this character-plot connection:

The character-first approach constructs a story’s plot for a character that already exists. This approach asks a writer to build a character that they find interesting and then assemble the plot around her. For example, a character who is struggling to overcome a phobia might, as a plot element, come into contact with the thing she fears. Success in this instance would mean that she doesn’t let the fear overcome her.

The plot-first approach starts by defining the major conflicts the writer wants to include in a piece of fiction and then builds a character who will be motivated by those conflicts. For example, a writer could decide to explore the effect of a catastrophic storm on a city before writing a main character. A character that would feel motivated by this conflict would be one with a connection to the city or to someone living in the city. Therefore, the son of someone who went missing in the storm would likely be a good focal character for this story.

Small Goals and Big Goals

Though it’s important for characters to have at least one big goal, it can be boring for the reader if a character is totally preoccupied with a single motivation. Strong characters generally have two or more goals of varying sizes that they might confront separately or at the same time.

Take the movie Zombieland , for example. The character Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) pursues both a personal goal (small) and a story goal (big). Throughout the film, the audience watches as Tallahassee fights his way through zombie-riddled supermarkets and ransacks crashed delivery trucks in search of his favorite treat—Twinkies. While it is obvious from the get-go that his explicit personal goal is to track down his favorite snack cake during the apocalypse, the audience gradually learns enough about the character to realize that the Twinkie hunting is merely a pretext for Tallahassee to pursue a more serious story goal. Tallahassee's goofy exterior conceals an inner longing to rid the world of as many zombies as possible as payback for the death of his young son. Because the viewer naturally comes to expect that both goals will be resolved by the end of the movie, Talahassee's character gains dramatic tension as his goals are revealed. In other words, the audience excitedly anticipates his success or failure.

Tallahassee resolves his story goal by successfully  protecting two of his new companions from a zombie onslaught, realizing as he does so that he has found a new family (as imperfect as it might be). The resolution of Tallahassee’s personal goal connects to this story goal as well. As Tallahassee searches a restaurant for Twinkies during the final confrontation, he discovers that his bullets have ruined an entire box of his beloved snack cakes. He experiences a moment of sadness at realizing his failure before one of his companions offers him a Twinkie she found, resolving his personal goal while reinforcing his story goal. Though Tallahassee doesn't get nearly as many Twinkies as he would have liked, he comes to realize that the desserts are merely cheap substitutions for things that are far sweeter: the kindness and generosity one receives from family.

Character and Believability

Another factor that can contribute to a successful character is an element called “verisimilitude,” also called “believability.” When writers talk about believability, they talk about whether the constituent parts of a character make sense and feel cohesive. For example, we might expect a character who gets paid minimum wage to struggle to pay her bills, so if we see her driving an expensive car or spending several hundred dollars on a meal at a fancy restaurant, we would question these details. There are, of course, stories in which these situations could exist, but the reader would need to know what allowed them to happen (inheritance from a late relative, perhaps, or an irresponsible approach to personal debt).

Stories that take place outside of a realistic modern setting will generally require some extra work on the part of the writer to make them believable. This is becaus of an idea called “suspension of disbelief.” This refers to the tendency of readers to challenge details of a story that seem out-of-place, but not to question those details if they are presented with enough contextual justification. If a story contains people who can fly with human-size wings, for instance, the reader would need to learn early on that this is a normal event that occurs in the story world. A reader who unexpectedly encounters flying humans three-fourths of the way into a short story could easily be baffled by this development, and might also consider it a cheap cop-out if it's used to resolve a plot conflict.

Adding Physical Detail

In addition to planning your characters thoughtfully, you must also sketch them coherently on the page. Careful selection of physical and environmental details will make some of your character’s traits visible to your reader without you having to tell them outright what you mean. A character who is disorganized might have wrinkled clothing or might consistently arrive late to appointments. An introverted character might bring a book or notebook everywhere they go and might also stay out of crowded spaces (or feel uncomfortable in those spaces).

It’s important to be aware of the other meanings that a detail can bring into a piece. A physical detail, especially one that appears multiple times within a work, might also develop symbolic meanings in addition to its literal meaning. An example of this can be found in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. Harry is well-known in the wizarding world because of a prominent scar on his forehead, which resulted from a violent magical encounter that also claimed the lives of his parents. The scar becomes a symbol of Harry’s past—not only of his parents’ sacrifice, but also of the evil that he encounters in each book in the series — and Rowling is able to draw the reader’s attention to these ideas without always referencing them directly by simply mentioning the scar in her descriptions of Harry’s feelings.

Exercise: In a short vignette, and using only physical details (e.g., characters' clothing, appearance, or body language), make it clear to a reader that a character is experiencing one of the following conditions: worry, hunger, grief, joy, confusion, lack of sleep, anxiety, homesickness. The word you chose should not appear in your vignette, nor should any synonyms.

Adding Personality

Broadly, “personality” refers to the collection of beliefs, thought patterns, and other mental qualities that dictate a character’s actions. A personality trait could be the character’s bubbly disposition, their self-deprecating humor, or the fact that they’re always nervous. When constructing a character, it’s important to think about how she would react in a number of situations. Here are some questions to help you discover your character’s personality traits:

  • Is he fond of attention, or does he avoid it?
  • Is she curious to learn more about a topic/location/person, or does she keep to herself?
  • How big of a role does fear play in his day-to-day activities?
  • How does this character react if things don’t go the way she wants them to?
  • Does he think that he’s more intelligent/less intelligent than others around him?
  • Does she think she’s average? How would she define “average?”
  • How does he feel about making decisions?
  • Does she make decisions quickly or slowly?
  • Does he tend to regret decisions they’ve made?

See also our "Brief Introduction" to characters , which contains additional questions to spark your creativity as you write a character.

It’s helpful to connect these traits to elements from the character’s life or past. For example, a character who grew up with a controlling parent might have difficulty making decisions once they start living on their own. Personality traits might also overlap with physical traits: talking too loudly or too softly or interrupting others, for example.

It’s also important to make sure that your characters aren’t good at everything they come across. Doing so will reduce your story’s believability because — let’s face it—no one is good at everything. To this end, you should allow your characters to fail at something, whether that something is huge or inconsequential.

Exercise: In a short vignette, deliver some news to your character. The news can be good or bad. It can affect just the character, or the entire world population, or any number of people in between. How does this character react? Who do they tell, if anyone? How do they interact with the space they’re in (e.g. punch a wall, hug a stranger)? Try this exercise several times with the same character but different contexts (e.g., the character receiving the news alone versus receiving it in a public place) to see how they react under different circumstances.

A Word of Caution on Using Fictionalized Versions of Real People

It’s common for writers to borrow details from real life—the shape of a stranger’s chin, a classmate’s clicking of their pen during a quiet exam, or the restaurant server’s shrill laugh, to give just a few examples—but a writer should be wary of recreating an entire person on the page. There are legal reasons not to do this, of course, but there is also the danger that a story filled with too many real-life people and events will be flat and boring. Fiction should generally be a healthy mix of the ordinary and extraordinary. If the mix is skewed too far in one direction, the reader can find the piece too unbelievable or too boring.

If you’re writing any kind of fiction, from a short story to a screenplay, your story has a protagonist. This is the character or characters around whom the story centers. Without a well crafted protagonist, the rest of the story falls short, so careful consideration of a story’s protagonist(s) is crucial to effective storytelling . In this article, we’ll examine how to create the perfect protagonist.

What is a protagonist? What is the difference between a protagonist vs. antagonist? Can there be more than one protagonist? Understanding these key detail of storytelling will unlock countless possibilities in your work, so let’s examine the development of protagonist personality in detail. We’ll start by looking at the role your protagonist must play in your story.

  • Protagonist Vs Antagonist
  • Protagonist Vs Deuteragonist

Antihero Protagonist

Considerations for creating a protagonist, protagonist examples in literature, common questions about creating a protagonist.

  • Creating Your Protagonist (from Instructor Jack Smith)

Protagonist Definition: What is a Protagonist?

The protagonist of a story is the main character who drives the plot forward. As the leading character of a story, play, movie, or other piece of drama or literature, protagonists are essential components of fiction, as it’s their conflicts and journeys that make the story possible.

Protagonist definition: The main character of a story, whose conflict drives the plot forward.

Readers love fiction for a variety of reasons: stories can answer moral questions, transport us to beautiful worlds, and teach us about history, society, and philosophy. But readers especially love fiction for its characters, and for the chance to observe human nature with a certain degree of intimacy. Without a well crafted main character, fiction cannot accomplish what it seeks to accomplish, nor can it answer, transport, or teach the reader.

Many great protagonist examples come from the pen of Toni Morrison. Milkman, the main character of her novel Song of Solomon , showcases how a character’s moral dilemma drives the story’s engine. Milkman feels estranged from his family, from society, and from any sort of obligation to other people—but this estrangement is fueled in part by his father’s lack of affection and approval. When a quest to find a bag of gold coins presents itself to Milkman, he goes on this quest secretly desiring his father’s approval, only to discover his family’s complex and beautiful history, making him appreciate the foundation his life is built upon.

Is the protagonist the main character? Yes, always—although they are not always the narrator, and they may have to share the spotlight with other characters. Let’s briefly examine the distinction between protagonists and other character types.

Protagonist vs. Antagonist

If the protagonist is the main character of the story, then the antagonist is the main force working against the protagonist’s wishes. Most stories involve a dilemma between the protagonist vs. antagonist, and if the main character wants to achieve their goals or desires in the story, they must surmount the antagonist’s obstacles.

The antagonist is the main force working against the protagonist’s wishes.

The antagonist is not always a person: it can also be a concept or ideology. Society and government prove to be the antagonists in dystopian works of fiction, like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or 1984 by George Orwell. In the story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the antagonist is the concept of backwards aging, which the protagonist is afflicted with and can do nothing about.

Shorter works of fiction might not have a clearly defined antagonist, but they still force the protagonist to confront a conflict or moral dilemma that’s preventing their own growth and success. Moreover, a good antagonist will perfectly challenge the faults and shortcomings of the protagonist. To learn more, check out our article on developing a strong antagonist .

Protagonist vs. Deuteragonist

A common distinction made between main characters is the protagonist vs. deuteragonist. The deuteragonist is a secondary character: they play an essential role in the story by aiding or hindering the journey of the main character.

Deuteragonists can be allies, antagonists, or anything in between, but their own flaws and motives must influence the course of the story. Great examples of deuteragonists include Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes , Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter series, or Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello .

An antihero protagonist is a character whose traits are opposite what’s expected of a hero. Especially in genre fiction, conventional protagonists might be brave, kind, or interested in justice. The antihero protagonist, then, is something opposite: they might be cowardly, unkind, selfish, or otherwise unconcerned with morality. To put it simply: the antihero protagonist  defies conventional morality, and in doing so, reveals something essential about the ways society functions.

Antihero protagonist examples include Muersault in Albert Camus’ The Stranger , Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye , and the unnamed main character of Dostoevsky’s Note from Underground . Note that all of these characters have very different personality traits, but each antihero protagonist’s diversion from what’s expected of a main character allows the author to comment on society, human psychology, and philosophical thought.

Learn more about the antihero here:

Before we look at some protagonist examples in literature, it’s important to consider everything that goes into a carefully crafted character. Whether you’re writing literary fiction or genre fiction , the following considerations are necessary for creating a protagonist.

Inner vs. outer journey

A protagonist’s plotline is defined by two interweaving narratives: the inner journey and the outer journey.

The outer journey is the plot at face value, encompassing every action, decision, and event of the main storyline. If you’re familiar with the hero’s journey plot structure , then you might think of the hero’s quest: leaving home, entering a strange new world, making new allies and enemies, vanquishing the enemy, journeying home, vanquishing the enemy again, and finally returning home.

The inner journey describes the changes going on in the main character’s personality, personal philosophy, and morality. As the protagonist encounters different obstacles and dilemmas, their outlook on life inevitably changes as well. Don’t assume that the protagonist always improves as a person: sometimes, the main character doesn’t survive their inner journey.

Sometimes, the main character doesn’t survive their inner journey.

For example, consider the plot of Fahrenheit 451 . Guy Montag, the main character, comes to realize the value of literature in a society bent on destroying books. Montag is a fireman which, in this society, means he is one of the people who destroys books. However, he soon realizes the value of literature and the ills of modern society, creating a contrast between his inner and outer journeys. Outwardly, he must demolish books and the people who still value literature; inwardly, he comes to find the value of books, and must choose between his newly found values and his adherence to society. The inner and outer journeys each goad each other on, forcing Montag to decide between justice and complacence.

Protagonist personality

Personality is a combination of the thoughts, feelings, actions, beliefs, and philosophies that inform a particular person’s decisions. It is, in short, a gestalt of a person’s many interactions with the world: the things they do that define the patterns of their choices, thoughts, and feelings.

Who is your protagonist? How do they act, feel, think, and make decisions? Developing protagonist personality is an imprecise science, partially because scientists have yet to figure out what personality even is , and partially because a character’s personality will develop organically and over time.

Nonetheless, it’s imperative to think about protagonist personality, and how your characters’ identity and shortcomings shape the narrative at large. For example, in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick , Captain Ahab’s obsessive personality is essential to making the story work. If Ahab wasn’t so prideful, impulsive, and vengeful—and if he didn’t struggle to give his own life meaning—then he would not be the right protagonist for a story about chasing a mythical whale.

For more on developing character personality and traits, take a look at our article on character development .

The unlikable protagonist trope

Related to the issue of protagonist personality is the unlikable protagonist trope. Sometimes, the main character of a novel is simply a heinous person. They may be redeemable, but even if they’re not, the reader is drawn to this character because of their complexity, and because of the little glimmer of humanity that they cannot seem to eradicate.

There are countless examples of this in classic literature: Humbert Humbert in Nabokov’s Lolita , Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray , or Anthony and Gloria Patch in The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Each of these characters bring an awful taste to the mouth: they are vain, self-centered, and uninterested in the betterment of society or themselves, ruining the lives of the people around them.

What’s most difficult about the unlikable protagonist trope is this: the reader still roots for them. Unlikable characters are still complicated and human, and while we might abhor them for their iniquities, we also hope they might redeem themselves, recognize their errors, even turn themselves in for the crimes they’ve committed. Through reprehensible protagonists, the reader observes something about the dark side of human nature, forcing them to reflect on society and how we ought to coexist with one another.

In your own work, your main characters do not have to be unlikable. But they’re certainly not perfect, and carry a mix of positive and negative traits. Good people do unlikable things all the time, and many protagonists are indeed unkind people. After all, imperfection is what makes for a great story: the reader learns to love the main character and root for their success, despite all of their shortcomings and poor decisions.

Narrative lens

Who’s telling the story? Is it the protagonist, a close friend of the protagonist, or a distant and impartial narrator? Point of view plays an essential role in shaping the contours of your main character. With a clearly established POV, you can decide how intimately the reader knows your protagonist, including what access we have to their thoughts, feelings, and internal life.

Learn more at our article on point of view in literature , and how different narrative lenses affect the development of your characters and their journeys.

Naming your characters, especially your protagonists, can prove especially daunting. It seems like there are thousands of wrong names to impart on your main character, but the right one always eludes you. How do authors come up with such great names?

Here are a few considerations:

  • Name meanings: What could your character’s name say about their journey? For example, let’s say your protagonist is a lion tamer. The name “Leo,” which means “lion,” would certainly be apt, if ironic. Or, perhaps your character must, at some point, cross a dangerous ocean. The name “Cordelia” means “daughter of the sea,” and could certainly foreshadow her journey.
  • Ethnic or religious background: Consider the upbringing of your main character. What traditions shaped their childhood? If they grew up in a heavily Christian household, for example, then it makes sense to give them a Christian name.
  • Nicknames: People endow each other with nicknames for a variety of reasons. A nickname can refer to someone’s physical features, a talent or occupation they have, or a story that everyone knows. Nicknames can also be cruel. Milkman, in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon , is called “Milkman” because he was seen breastfeeding when he was 4 years old.
  • Alliteration: Many memorable characters have names that use sound devices like alliteration, consonance, and assonance. For example: Peter Parker, Major Major, Tiny Tim, Peter Pevensie, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, etc. This is just one of many considerations, and of course, it matters much more that the name sounds believable and interesting rather than just alliterative.
  • Time period: When was your protagonist named? What was going on at the time? Many babies were named Britney in the early 2000s, likely because of Britney Spears’ stardom. More recently, people have named their children Khaleesi or Arya, as inspired by Game of Thrones.

If you’re still struggling to come up with something clever or applicable, try out this name generator for a spin.

Finally, when it comes to naming your protagonist, you’re probably your own biggest critic. Readers will trust that the name you’ve given your character is thoughtful and relevant. Whether or not you’re a believer in nominative determinism, go with your gut—there’s nobody else who can give a better name to your characters than you.

Character description

What does your main character look like? How do they dress, wear their hair, move their face, navigate a room? What do they smell like? How does their voice sound?

You don’t need to paint a complete picture for the reader, as we don’t want to get lost in the details. But singling out precise imagery for your protagonist will help the reader visualize them and understand their personality.

Again, we don’t need to know everything: there’s no need to pile on visual and sensory details. Readers prefer to build an idea in their head of what a character looks like based on a few key pieces of description, otherwise the story gets weighed down with loads of imagery, confusing the reader. Keep description simple and symbolic—let the reader get to know your main character through the most important sensory details you share.

Finally, don’t have your protagonist describe themselves by looking at their reflection. For example: “I looked at myself in the mirror, examining my short hair, my large nose, and my bluish-green eyes.” It’s cliché and distracts from the narrative.

Synergy with the antagonist

The perfect antagonist isn’t perfect for everybody, but specifically for your protagonist. The challenges that the antagonist presents will prove difficult for the main character to overcome because of the main character’s own flaws and shortcomings.

The challenges that the antagonist presents will prove difficult for the main character to overcome because of the main character’s own flaws and shortcomings.

For example, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kasey, Nurse Ratched is a perfect antagonist for Randle McMurphy. Randle is a fun-loving, free-spirited character who does not respond to threats, intimidation, or any of the tortuous punishments Nurse Ratched dreams up for her patients. Nurse Ratched, by contrast, exercises total control over the psychiatric ward, using patients as informants and manipulating the residents to her will. These two contrasting personalities inevitably reach a stalemate, until McMurphy nearly chokes Nurse Ratched to death. McMurphy is lobotomized, but Nurse Ratched loses her voice, essentially disabling each of their respective personalities.

The antagonist might also demonstrate something about the shortcomings of society. In To Kill a Mockingbird , the Ewells are no match for Atticus Finch, who is a model example of a lawyer and humanitarian. The Ewells win their case and successfully get a black man wrongfully imprisoned, demonstrating how justice is not always found in the justice system. Atticus’ shortcoming is not his own fault, but rather the fault of systemic racism; nonetheless, his own prowess as an orator makes the Ewell family the laughing stock of Maycomb.

The moral dilemma

A good antagonist will also present the protagonist with difficult moral dilemmas. The main character must inevitably make hard decisions, often with limited information, that decide the fate of the story and their own internal journey. If the protagonist has not grown as a person, or else cowers in the face of responsibility, the story will end in tragedy.

For example, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet , the titular Hamlet is tasked with avenging the death of his father. Hamlet suspects, and later confirms, that his uncle Claudius killed his father, the former king of Sweden. With this knowledge, Hamlet vows to kill Claudius—except he is never able to do so, as he is both indecisive and frequently gets lost in his own moralizing. Several preventable deaths, including Hamlet’s own, result from Hamlet’s inability to approach the moral dilemma.

Real people versus fictional elements

How do you come up with fictional characters? Can they be completely unique human beings? Should you model your protagonist off of people you know? Should your protagonist be yourself?

There’s no wrong answer here. James Joyce’s hero Stephen Daedalus was Joyce’s literary alter ego. By contrast, Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes was inspired by a professor Doyle had in medical school, Dr. Joseph Bell.

In truth, authors usually imbue their characters with a mixture of inspiration from the people they know, and elements of themselves they unwittingly endow their characters with. The important part of developing your characters is to be strategic: figure out what traits are essential to telling your story, escalating conflict, and creating a perfect moral dilemma.

The following protagonist examples come from classic works of literature. We summarize the role that the character plays in the story, referencing how each protagonist was carefully crafted with the above criteria in mind. If you read or have read these novels, pay close attention to the interplay of character and narrative, as the protagonist is equally shaped by the story as the story shapes the protagonist.

Selin Karadağ in The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Story summary: Selin is a freshman at Harvard in the 1990s, when email is first becoming a means of communication. Much of the story is focused on her uncertain relationship with Ivan, an older student in mathematics, and Selin’s observations and dry wit explore the existential uncertainty that comes with being in your late teens—the odd juxtaposition of being a freshly minted adult and entirely uncertain about how the world really works.

Protagonist personality: Selin is witty, obsessed with the inner workings of language, and has a remarkably dry sense of humor. Much of her observations about the world are tied to language, and the gap between what language conveys and how the world truly is. Outside of this, Selin is a typical teenage girl, trying to figure herself out and her place in the world. Sometimes she’s confident, other times she’s shy; sometimes she’s completely sure of something, and other times she feels completely lost in the large, chaotic world. In addition to learning languages, Selin sees herself as a writer.

Character description: Not a whole lot of time is spent on Selin’s appearance, mainly because it’s written in first person POV. We know that Selin is Turkish American, and that she grew up in New Jersey.

Inner and outer journey: Outwardly, Selin tries to figure out her place at Harvard and the future she wants to build. She surveys different classes, makes the typical mistakes that freshmen make, and spends her summer teaching English in a remote Hungarian village (partially to be closer to Ivan, who is Hungarian). Inwardly, Selin tries to conquer the gap between language and meaning. In her relationship to Ivan, which is mostly held over email, Selin tries to put her thoughts and feelings precisely into words. But, despite their chemistry, neither Ivan or Selin seem capable of expressing their feelings towards one another.

Moral dilemma: Selin must figure out how to communicate her feelings, whether to communicate them or not, and how to accept the vulnerability of love, desire, and language. To express something is to open yourself up to the limits of language—the inability to convey exact feelings and ideas through words. Selin’s Sisyphean struggle is to constantly learn more about words, but also to be brave enough to use them.

Other notes: The Idiot is semi-autobiographical, and was a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist in Fiction.

Charles Marlow in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Story summary: Written during the period of European colonial rule across the African continent, Heart of Darkness details Charles Marlow’s journey into the Congo Free State. Marlow is the captain of a steamboat for an ivory trading company, and he is tasked with finding Kurtz, a successful ivory trader, who has adapted his way of life to the natives along the Congo River. Throughout Marlow’s journey, he makes important realizations about colonization and the false dichotomy of “civilized” versus “savage.”

Protagonist personality: Marlow is adventurous, curious, and perhaps even obsessive. He becomes engrossed with the idea of Kurtz, and wants to meet him to understand why a European man would conform to an African lifestyle. He is well-educated and aristocratic, but also meditative and a bit distant, as he spent much of his time studying or at sea.

Character description: Marlow is a recurring character of Joseph Conrad’s work. Although his physical appearance is not discussed much in Heart of Darkness , other works describe him as a handsome man, though easily flustered and self-conscious around people of his own social standing.

Inner and outer journey: Marlow’s outer journey pushes him into the heart of the Congo. He dodges enemy attacks, suffers through exhaustion and illness, and does everything he can to meet Kurtz, who is on his deathbed. Inwardly, Marlow makes important realizations about colonization. He realizes that there is little difference between European aristocrats and African “savages,” and that colonization has wreaked disaster across the African continent. Marlow comes to see all men as equal, and to see Europeans as “whited sepulchers,” filled with the same “savagery” that all men have, but very thinly masked behind a veneer of aristocracy.

Moral dilemma: Before Kurtz dies, he gives Marlow a packet of papers, which detail some of his methods and the success of his trading station. In truth, Kurtz is a tyrant: he made the African people worship him so he could exploit their labor and produce as much ivory as possible. Further, he came to Africa to “civilize the natives,” and died wishing death upon every African man. Kurtz’s papers are highly lucrative, and Marlow’s moral dilemma is what to do with them. In the end, he protects those papers from every European, knowing that they would use Kurtz’s methods against the African continent.

David in Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Story summary: Giovanni’s Room is a novel about love and sexuality in 1950s Paris. David, who is engaged to his girlfriend Hella, meets the bartender Giovanni at a gay bar, which forces David to reckon with his masculinity, his sexuality, and his loneliness. The novel begins at the end: we know that something David has done has sent Giovanni to be executed.

Protagonist personality: David is indecisive and introspective. His mother died when he was young, his father was a distant but masculine presence, and David had several gay experiences as a teenager which made him afraid of his own queer desire. David is desperate to “be a man,” and when he’s anxious enough, he seduces women to prove to himself his own masculinity and heterosexuality (which for him, and society, are intertwined).

Character description: David is a handsome blond American man from New York City. Since the story is told from the first person, not much else is said about his appearance.

Inner and outer journey: Outwardly, David navigates his relationships to both Giovanni and Hella. He certainly cares for Giovanni, but feels suffocated by this relationship: David is the only thing that Giovanni lives for, and David has not come to terms with his sexuality. Additionally, Giovanni’s room is small and depressing, yet David spends the majority of his time there. Inwardly, David must confront his socially indoctrinated beliefs about manhood and sexuality, or else he can never overcome his sense of isolation and loneliness in the world.

Moral dilemma: Whether David is bisexual or homosexual is never explicitly stated, but still, he must choose between Hella and Giovanni while also resolving his questions of identity. In the end, he chooses neither. David abandons Giovanni to marry Hella; this sends Giovanni into a slew of self-destructive behaviors, culminating in him murdering his former boss and being executed for it. David blames himself for this, disappears from Hella, and starts gallivanting with a gay sailor. When Hella discovers this, she heads back to the United States. So, in David’s reckless indecisiveness and refusal to acknowledge his own desire, he has lost both of the people he claims to have loved.

Is the protagonist the main character?

Yes, always. But the protagonist is not always the narrator. In The Great Gatsby , for example, the protagonist is Jay Gatsby, but the narrator is Nick Carraway, a close acquaintance.

Can the protagonist also be the antagonist?

By definition, no. The protagonist is the main character of the story, and the antagonist is the main opposing force. Readers often assume this means the protagonist is always good and the antagonist is always bad, but it’s much more nuanced than this: good main characters will also have “bad” traits, and some protagonists are actually evil people.

That said, the protagonist can be their own opposing force. Take note of the above protagonist examples. In Giovanni’s Room , the antagonist is arguably society and its unfair views of masculinity and sexuality. One could also assert that David is his own antagonist: he’s a grown man, capable of confronting his biases and struggles with identity, both of which cause him to hurt the people he loves. David, of course, has inherited loads of trauma and confusion surrounding his identity, and in the 1950s, it wasn’t easy to admit to yourself you’re a gay or bisexual man. Thus, there is no clear antagonist, but David plays an active role in his own self-destruction, as well as the destruction of others.

Can there be more than one protagonist?

It depends on who you ask. Some literary theorists argue that, even in novels told from multiple perspectives and with multiple interweaving narratives, there can be only one true protagonist, and the other perspectives are deuteragonists.

In truth, it’s very difficult to tell a story with two or more equally-important main characters. One character will likely overshadow the other(s), even if only barely, because their journey ends up defining the arc of the story. That’s not to say the deuteragonists aren’t also given depth and importance, only that their journey does not define the story , which is a central trait of all protagonists.

Some examples of novels with multiple perspectives or main characters include:

  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

There are also novels that are told across the perspectives of multiple generations, including Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan.

Among this list, the novel that comes closest to having equally weighted characters is In the Time of the Butterflies , which tries to show equal perspective from each of the Mirabal sisters. In a way, this makes the Mirabals, as a unit, the story’s protagonist, though each sister certainly has her own traits, desires, and flaws, and though Dedé is the only sister who survives.

In short, it is possible to have multiple protagonists, but if you’re considering doing this, pay close attention to the narratives and journeys you’re building for each character. You may end up prioritizing one journey over the other in your novel.

Creating Your Protagonist

Jack Smith

What is a protagonist? It’s your main character. You might have several characters, but this is the character who drives the action, the one whose perspective is the most important. In being the main character, this character needs to be real, to have human attributes, not to be one-dimensional, but multi-dimensional, and to be sympathetic, someone whose problems we can relate to and care about.

But first, let’s look into this matter of creating your protagonist and how you might do it. What fictional methods can you depend on? How should you start?

  • Descriptive opening : Should you start by trying to describe your protagonist first so that readers will get a basic understanding of what your main character looks like before you get them involved in action of one kind or another?
  • Expository opening:  Should you begin by telling about your protagonist, providing some backstory? Should you concentrate on a few dominant traits?
  • Scenic opening:  Should you start with action and reveal your character’s physical appearance and dominant personality traits as your protagonist acts and responds to others’ actions? This could be narration alone, or narration with dialogue .  

Of these openings, many writers today would probably choose the latter, beginning in media res, or in the middle of things. Though the traditional five-stage plot structure, which we’ll cover later, begins with exposition, or telling—establishing the character’s situation before a complication occurs—writers today tend to feel that this lacks the kind of verve they want out of a novel opening. A descriptive opening, however, might work, unless it sounds like it’s just description for description’s sake. And it’s got to be vivid—it’s got to “show, don’t tell.”

What should you accomplish in your opening? Richard Bausch, famous novelist, states that he “troubles” his character to get things moving. However you manage to get things rolling, you do need to find ways to create your character—again putting aside, for now, the question of creating a character worth your reader’s time, one that is complex and sympathetic.

What besides a good opening do you need? What are the tools at your command to create your main character?

Be sure to rely on the following:

Scenes that involve your protagonist in conflict : Fiction thrives on conflict . A good scenic opening means putting your character in a situation that threatens them — in some way. Throughout your novel, you need to keep this in mind. Scenes where your character is feeling good, satisfied, getting along with others, being happy, happy, happy, will probably make for dull reading. Save that for some riveting prose. (Unless, we can just feel in that happy, happy occasion that things are about to go south.) Think of conflict, whether it’s verbal or physical, as the engine that drives your character—and your novel. We’ll learn about your protagonist, in part, from what they do.

Prose that reveals what the protagonist is thinking and feeling : Think of moving from summary to scene and from scene to summary. We’ll get to know your character not only through interaction with others in scenes, but in narrative summary, which establishes her routines over a given time period, or typical routines at a given time in her life. Perhaps—just one possibility—these times could be lulls in the action, giving your protagonist moments to take stock of her life.

Expository prose can also reveal the feelings, thoughts, worries, fears, etc., of your character. Readers like to get inside the protagonist’s mind. Good prose can do that, if it doesn’t sound like it’s talking about  a character but instead is revealing the inner life of a character. Vividness helps.

Scenes that reveal what others think of your protagonist : Dialogue that reveals what other characters think of your protagonist will help in creating this main character. Are these external perspectives right or wrong? Are they credible? Readers will be intrigued by different takes on the protagonist.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, these are the fictional strategies you have at your disposal.

Learn how to create the perfect protagonist at

What is a protagonist? What does your protagonist want? What do they look like, who’s acting against them, and how will they survive? Will they survive, or won’t they?

Crafting a great protagonist and putting them on an interesting journey is hard work. Learn how to create the perfect protagonist at Take a look at our upcoming fiction courses , where you’ll learn the craft of storytelling and get expert feedback on your characters.

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A very fruitful short lecture for the first time i hear of those characters. i was stunt on the technics of going about writing short stories.

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Creative Writing

  • Literary Terms
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Write a Character

I. What is Character?

A character is a person, animal, being, creature, or thing in a story. Writers use characters to perform the actions and speak dialogue, moving the story along a plot line. A story can have only one character (protagonist) and still be a complete story. This character’s conflict may be an inner one (within him/herself), or a conflict with something natural, such as climbing a mountain. Most stories have multiple characters interacting, with one of them as the antagonist, causing a conflict for the protagonist.

II. Examples of Character

A popular television series that just ended is the show “Glee.” Each season had popular characters who had to learn to work together to create a good musical production. Various characters underwent a change, making them a dynamic character, such as Noah Puckerman. He appears to carry out the stereotype of a jock (strong but not so smart), but his character changes as it’s revealed that he can be hard working and intelligent.

A movie that features one character throughout most of it is “Castaway” with Tom Hanks. His character is on board a shipping plane when it crashes. He’s the only survivor, trapped on an island for four years. This movie focuses on his psychological (mental) and physical condition as he slowly adapts to a life of isolation, living alone on an island that is off all regular sea and airplane routes. It’s a great example of how a story can work with only one character, although many minor characters appear in the beginning and end.

III. Types of Character

A. major characters.

These are the most important characters in the story. There are two types, of which there may be a couple for each.

  • Protagonist – This is the main character, around which the whole story revolves. The decisions made by this character will be affected by a conflict from within, or externally through another character, nature, technology, society, or the fates/God.
  • Antagonist – This character, or group of characters, causes the conflict for the protagonist. However, the antagonist could be the protagonist, who is torn by a problem within. Most times, something external is causing the problem. A group of people causing the conflict would be considered society, perhaps the members of a team, community, or institution. Additionally, the antagonist could be a part of nature, such as an animal, the weather, a mountain or lake. A different kind of antagonist would be an item such as a pen, car, phone, carpet, etc. These are all considered technology, since they are instruments or tools to complete a job. Finally, if the conflict comes from something out of the character’s control, the antagonist is fate or God.

b. Minor characters

These are the other characters in a story. They are not as important as the major characters, but still play a large part in the story. Their actions help drive the story forward. They may impact the decisions the protagonist or antagonist make, either helping or interfering with the conflict.

Characters can have different traits. Major characters will usually be more dynamic, changing and growing through the story while minor characters may be more static.

  • Foil – A foil is a character that has opposite character traits from another, meant to help highlight or bring out another’s positive or negative side. Many times, the antagonist is the foil for the protagonist.
  • Static – Characters who are static do not change throughout the story. Their use may simply be to create or relieve tension, or they were not meant to change. A major character can remain static through the whole story.
  • Dynamic – Dynamic characters change throughout the story. They may learn a lesson, become bad, or change in complex ways.
  • Flat – A flat character has one or two main traits, usually only all positive or negative. They are the opposite of a round character. The flaw or strength has its use in the story.
  • Round – These are the opposite of the flat character. These characters have many different traits, good and bad, making them more interesting.
  • Stock – These are the stereotypical characters, such as the boy genius, ambitious career person, faithful sidekick, mad scientist, etc.

IV. The Importance of Character

Characters are what make stories. Without a character, there is no story to tell, only a lot of scenery. Many characters in literature, television series, and movies have a huge impact on people. Some people like to live their lives through these characters, who appear to have more exciting lives.  Also, these characters may seem so real and inspirational, that people forget they are fictional.

Characters become so important to the audience, that cities across the country hold conventions in which people pay a lot of money to dress and act as their favorite characters from multiple types of shows, particularly of the comic magazine genre (type of literature).

V. Examples of Character in Pop Culture

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been keeping the city safe since the 1980s, but are still just as popular today. They each have their own special fighting method as well as personality. Originally simple, small turtles, they became super human, err turtle, after an accident in which the fish bowl of water they were in got knocked out of their owner’s hands and fell down a sewer grate, along with a canister of radioactive material. The rest is history. Nickelodeon has brought the characters back to fame, as can be seen on the channel and in the Nickelodeon Hotel in Orlando, Florida. The hotel features suites based on characters from the Nickelodeon shows for kids, and kids can interact with their favorite characters, including the Turtles, during breakfast and fun events. It’s clear that characters are an important part of our culture.

The characters are named after famous painters, and each turtle has his own personality to which different kids may relate. For example, Leonardo is the wise leader, the one who can keep the group focused. Raphael is the hothead. His temper wants to get the best of him, just as most of us would like to jump into things! Michaelangelo is the comedian. Like our class clowns in school, he’s the group clown. Finally, no group is complete without the geeky nerd. Donatello is always inventing things to help our turtle heroes in their adventures .

VI. Examples of Character in Literature

A book whose character was inspired by a real teenage girl is “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. The protagonist is 16-year-old Hazel, who meets Gus, a fellow 16-year-old cancer patient, at a camp. Their young romance is doomed as they are fighting a losing battle with cancer. Their strong spirits overcome their parents’ fears as the determined Hazel gets her wish to go overseas to meet an author she has long admired. The book has both characters undergoing change, very dynamic, as they struggle to adapt to their fate. The minor characters are impacted by the decisions Hazel and Gus make, giving depth to the story line. This book is an example of how authors take real life situations to create believable and interesting characters. Green’s inspiration for the story, Esther Earl, was a young fan with cancer who had wanted to meet him. He became friends with her and her family. She was diagnosed with cancer at 12 and died at 16.

John Green Discusses the Touching Inspiration Behind 'The Fault in Our Stars'

VII. Related Terms

Archetype: A standard or stock type of character that appears in fiction, such as the villain, the hero, the damsel-in-distress, or the sidekick. Each archetype has more categories within, as well. For example, the villain could be a tyrant, devil, schemer, etc. The hero could be the warrior, proto-female, scapegoat, etc. These are especially common in fairy and folk tales.

VIII. Conclusion

Characters are the whole reason for any story. They can be used to help teach a lesson, to entertain, to educate, and even to persuade, depending on the author’s goal for the story line. Characters can be based on real people and events, or be totally unrealistic, such as space aliens. People become attached to characters as if they are real, may develop favorites, and relate to those that have faced similar situations.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

How to create vivid characters for your novel or screenplay

Character profile for a novel

Follow this step-by-step guide to learn the modern process of developing fictional characters in Milanote, a free tool used by top creatives.

How to create a character in 8 easy steps

One of the most integral parts of any story is crafting relatable and vivid characters. As writer Ernest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

The character profile is a popular technique for developing genuine personas for your story. Depending on the project or person, some stories are born out of a character, while others begin with a plot that in turn shapes the characters. A detailed character profile will help to shape a narrative as well as provide a handy reference point for their personality traits, backstory, goals, flaws, and challenges.

Whether you’re developing a character for your novel, screenplay, video game , or comic, this guide will take you through every step to bring them to life.

1. Start with a character archetype

A character might start as a bundle of random ideas, traits and plot points from a story outline, so it’s important to bring everything together in one place. A character archetype can help narrow your focus. There are twelve common archetypes or personas that we recognize across literature, mythology, and the human experience: The Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Outlaw, Explorer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Lover, Caregiver, Jester, and Sage.

Archetypes provide guidelines for behaviors, emotions, and actions. For example, the Explorer is naturally curious, restless, and driven to push boundaries, such as detective Sherlock Holmes or Huckleberry Finn. Experiment with your archetype—layer characteristics or even transform them from one to another as the storyline progresses.

Photo of a character for a novel

Create a new board for your character profile.

Create a new board

Drag a board out from the toolbar. Give it a name, then double click to open it.

Add an image to represent your character.

Upload a file or document  

Click the "Upload file" button or just drag a file onto your board. You can add images, logos, documents, videos, audio, and much more.

2. Add specific characteristics

Once you've defined an initial archetype, you can begin to shape the character and make them original. Consider the emotional connection between your audience and your character, and work towards the desired outcome. You may find that switching the age and gender of a character can lead to very different responses from your reader. Here are a few other examples you could use to create a unique character:

  • Adventurous and thrill-seeking
  • Absent-minded and often lost in thought
  • Compassionate and empathetic
  • Obsessed with solving crossword puzzles or riddles
  • Intelligent and analytical
  • Witty and sarcastic
  • Ambitious and driven
  • Introverted and introspective
  • Charismatic and charming
  • Meticulous and detail-oriented

Writers character profile guide step02

Add a note to describe their charactaristics.

Drag a note card onto your board

Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left-hand toolbar.

3. Build the backstory

Your character's backstory describes the journey they have taken up to this point. It allows you to explore their fears, weaknesses, and motivations and to define their purpose. You can explain the character's methods and evaluations—why they act the way that they do, the choices they make, and how it drives the individual forward. Are they making progress towards their goal, or making things worse?

To really round out the character, give them a personality that stretches beyond the story itself. Some aspects of their personality will not make it into the story but will help to inform the decisions that they make. Here are a few areas to consider when crafting an interesting backstory:

  • Childhood and family dynamics
  • Traumatic or impactful events
  • Educational background and achievements
  • Obstacles, challenges, or setbacks
  • Secrets, hidden aspects, or unresolved issues
  • Relationships with friends, partners, or mentors
  • Goals, aspirations, and dreams
  • Hobbies, interests, or talents
  • Values, morals, and ethical code

Adding a backstory to a character profile

Add a note to describe their backstory.

4. Give them quirks, faults, and flaws

Your character should come from an authentic place. That means that the character probably has some contradictions that make them a little out of the ordinary. If a character is too simplistic, it can feel cliched. Character flaws such as overconfidence, impatience, or recklessness can add new dimensions to a hero and make them feel more relatable. Here are a few other examples to consider:

  • Obsessive-compulsive tendencies (arranging things symmetrically, fear of germs)
  • Chronic lateness or forgetfulness
  • Collects unusual items (rubber ducks, vintage keychains)
  • Impulsive decision-making without considering consequences
  • Has a habit of telling elaborate and overly complicated stories
  • Overly critical or judgmental of others
  • Quick to anger or easily provoked
  • Overly trusting or easily manipulated by others

Adding quirks and flaws to a character profile

Add a note to describe their quirks and flaws.

5. Give your character an arc

A believable character grows and changes as your story evolves. Just like real people, they adapt and respond to life's events.

Consider where your character starts out and how they change alongside developments in the story. How do they overcome their initial obstacles? For example, do they learn new skills, gain a fresh perspective or make new relationships that lead to their success?

A character arc

Add notes to describe the change in your character.

Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left hand toolbar.

6. Add visual references

Even if you're writing a novel, visual references and inspiration can help bring your character to life. There are lots of fantastic sites where you can find great visual inspiration for free, like Pinterest or Google Images . You can also create a character moodboard at this stage to help explore all aspects of their appearance. See our guide on creating moodboards for a novel to learn more.

Visual references in a character profile

Use the built-in image library.

Use the built-in image library

Search over 500,000 beautiful photos powered by Unsplash then drag images straight onto your board.

Add image files to your board.

Click the "Upload file" button or just drag a file onto your board. You can add images, logos, documents, videos, audio and much more.

7. Organise & refine

Once you have everything you need, it's time to organize your content into logical topics. There's no right or wrong way to do this. The goal is to make your character profile easy to scan and reference as you're writing the story.

Character profile for a novel

Use Columns to group related content

Drag a column onto your board

Name it, then drag any relevant notes or images into your column

8. Create the rest of your characters

It's important not to fall into the trap of giving just one character too much responsibility for the drama in your story. Work on additional characters that compliment and contrast the traits of your main character. You can repeat the above process to develop a whole cast of characters that help bring your novel to life. Creating a character relationship map can be a great way to visualize their relationships (good or bad).

Map of characters in a novel

Use the Character Relationship Map template

You're done!

Now that you've created a unique fictional character, you have a great reference to use while writing your story. Use the template below to start inventing your character or read our full guide on how to plan a novel .

brett warren

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  1. Creative Writing Characters

    main character in creative writing

  2. Creative Writing- creating a character

    main character in creative writing

  3. Bringing Characters to Life in Writer's Workshop

    main character in creative writing

  4. Creating Dynamic Characters

    main character in creative writing

  5. Main Character Writing: 6 Ideas for a Strong Key Cast

    main character in creative writing

  6. Creative Writing

    main character in creative writing


  1. Get Creative: Designing Your Own Character Games

    Creating your own character-based games can be a great way to express yourself and explore your creativity. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced game designer, there are plenty of ways to make your own character-based game. Here are ...

  2. How to Write a Book Summary

    When a teacher or anyone else asks you to write a book summary, he or she is requesting that you read a book and write a short account that explains the main plot points, characters and any other important information in your own words.

  3. How Do You Write a Plot Summary?

    A plot summary should briefly summarize the main elements of the story, including the main characters, setting and conflict. It should also include an overview of the plot, focusing on main events and leaving out non-essential details.

  4. How to Write a Main Character: 5 Tips for Writing Strong Main

    5 Tips for Writing a Main Character · 1. Establish where they came from. · 2. Figure out where they're going. · 3. Make them believable characters.

  5. What Is a Protagonist? Exploring Main Character Examples

    The main character in a story is someone who plays an active role in the progression of the plot and story. This includes both the protagonist

  6. Writing 101: All the Different Types of Characters in Literature

    Protagonist: The main character of the story is the protagonist. They should be carefully crafted with a logical backstory, personal motivation

  7. How do I write about the main character?

    How to write the main character: Should have big motives Decisions are the main factor that decide whether the character will be a protagonist or antagonist

  8. What is a Protagonist? || Definition & Examples

    The protagonist is the character who drives the action--the character whose fate matters most. In other words, they are involved in —and often central to—the

  9. Writing Compelling Characters

    The plot-first approach starts by defining the major conflicts the writer wants to include in a piece of fiction and then builds a character who will be

  10. Protagonist Definition: How to Create a Protagonist

    The protagonist of a story is the main character who drives the plot forward. As the leading character of a story, play, movie, or other piece

  11. Character || Creative Writing

    Characters are going to tell your story. Without them you have a description of a setting with nothing going on. They will go through conflicts and shape the

  12. Character: Definitions and Examples

    a. Major characters · Protagonist – This is the main character, around which the whole story revolves. · Antagonist – This character, or group of characters

  13. Describing Your Main Character (Writing Advice)

    Writing Character Arcs for SIDE CHARACTERS (Fiction Writing Advice). Writer Brandon McNulty•87K views · 14:36 · Go to channel · 21 Words to Cut

  14. How to create vivid characters for your novel or screenplay

    One of the most integral parts of any story is crafting relatable and vivid characters. As writer Ernest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel a writer