Storytelling is one of the oldest art forms known to man. We’ve been telling stories as long as we’ve had the language to do it.

So it should come as no surprise that, by now, we have a pretty solid understanding of the most important narrative elements.

Those elements include:

1) A protagonist who drives the story

2) The major dramatic question

3) Old world order

4) New world order

5) Inciting incident

6) Rising action

7) Resolving the dramatic question in a satisfying way

I wouldn’t think of these elements as “rules,” per se. You don’t necessarily HAVE to have them all. But it’s also true that most satisfying stories do contain these 7 elements.

Now, I’m not going to cover all these elements in detail. There isn’t nearly enough time in this email.

But if you’d like an outstanding in-depth description on them, check out the PSH Playwriting Course here:

Instead, I’ll dive briefly into element #1–a protagonist who drives the story.

One common mistake that I’ve seen in many plays is a weak main character. It’s almost impossible to have a great story with a weak main character, since that character is like the story’s engine–it’s the strength of their desire that drives the plot forward.

So how do you know if you’ve chosen a good main character for your play?

Here are some common traits of effective protagonists in theater:

• They drive the action of the play

• They have the strongest want or need

• They make the final key decision in the narrative

• They’re often a fish out of water

• The play begins and ends with this character

• This is the character who must deal with conflicts in the pursuit of his/her goal

In addition, the climax of your play is liable to involve a conclusion that the audience can come to about this character. In other words, when the play is over, this character is the one who has changed more than any other.

One effective exercise can be to write out that list above and put a checkmark next to each element that describes your main character. How many checkmarks does your main character get? The more the better!

You might also consider some ways to work more of those points into your main character. For instance, maybe your protagonist isn’t a fish out of water…but could you tweak some part of the story so that they ARE a fish out of water–at least in one sense?

Little adjustments like that can go a long way in fleshing out your protagonist to make for a rounder, more dynamic main character.

A main character who will help drive a more dynamic and satisfying story.

The PSH Playwriting Course has an entire lesson on these 7 essential narrative elements.

The course is available to members here: