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What is a protagonist?

One of films best known protagonists, Luke Skywalker 
The protagonist of a story is the character on a journey. You'd be surprised how often talented wordsmiths forget to include a true protagonist. The plot, what happens in the story, is just a series of events without a protagonist. These events tie together around the protagonist to create a central conflict, the point of the journey, to reach the conclusion.

Most often the protagonist is carrying out the actions and controlling these events, but sometimes the events are controlling them and the story becomes less about the events and more about the change in the protagonist.

No story can be told without a protagonist. Furthermore, no story can be complete without a change of state within the protagonist.

Here are a few examples using a protagonist named Eleanor.

Coming-of-age – Eleanor, young and naïve, experience a series of events that challenge her core attitudes and values. Sometimes these events reshape her core values. Other times her core values may be the resolve she needs to reshape the events. Regardless, Eleanor emerges with new wisdom. The plot conclusion could be a paradigm shift, or a strengthening of her values.
Tragedy – Eleanor is forced to participate in a series of events at great personal risk. She may be driven by fear or chasing something of priceless value. Ultimately she overcomes fear, tests her resolve, or discovers a powerful truth. In the process, making the ultimate sacrifice.
Victory – Eleanor has a clear goal, but achieving it means overcoming obstacles. Sometimes these obstacles are happenstance, while other times the obstacles are a direct result of the antagonist. Elinor achieves her goals in spite of the obstacles, which makes victory even sweeter.

The key is that Eleanor must move from one point to another. She shifts from naïveté to wisdom. She succumbs to a worthy defeat. She relishes a sweet victory. The protagonist isn't the storyteller as much as she is the journeyman, and no story is complete without this change in state along the journey.

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