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Writing compelling characters is one of the most important things in all of playwriting. And the most important character of all is your protagonist.

OK, nothing too earth-shattering there, right?

But while we all know how important it is to create a great protagonist, it still remains a difficult task. In part because it’s not always clear HOW to make your protagonist compelling.

So here are some helpful questions to start nudging you in the right direction. You can use these questions anytime–whether in the initial outlining phase or when you’re revising a completed draft.

* Is your protagonist driving the action? We love a character who is proactive and tries (even if they fail). If your main characters is merely watching the action, you may want to rethink some things.

* Does your protagonist have the strongest want or need? If so, they’ll be the character with the highest stakes, the most to lose, and the greatest motivation to take dramatic action.

* Does your protagonist make the final key decision in the play? This is satisfying because it gives the audience the sense that this character has either changed in some way (good or bad)…or not.

* Is your protagonist a fish out of water? This isn’t a requirement, but it’s a great way to create interesting, conflict-filled situations.

* Does your protagonist begin and end the play? The audience will generally assume the first character they see is probably the most important one. Ditto for the last character they see. So if your main character isn’t onstage early–even worse, if they aren’t onstage much at all–then consider how that might be affecting the audience’s ability to identify with them.

Please don’t think that these are all hard-and-fast rules. Some plays don’t have a single protagonist, but are truly ensemble pieces. Some plays break these rules for a particular effect.

But either way, it’s always helpful to ask these questions to help ensure that whatever choices you’re making are deliberate.

One last simple tip for a great protagonist. Ask a friend to read your play and tell you which character they find the most interesting, and why. If the answer is a minor character, then consider whether you need to do some more work on your protagonist.

And keep in mind, the PSH Playwriting Course has an entire lesson on creating fascinating, three-dimensional protagonists.

The course is available to members here: