Creating Your Dream main-character: How Protagonist & Plot dovetail together to creat a dynamic merge. Part 2

© Copyright arabella K. Federico

Dream Protagonist

How you are able to take an incredibly flawed Protagonist and guild them down the 3 Act Structure so their story follows a completed arc that follows the plot to perfection.

The 3-act story structure

To begin, since I mentioned Jessica Brody in PART 1 of my Protagonist series, I’m going to just continue with her and her book “Save The Cat 2.0” as an incredible resource for understanding The 3 Act Structure. It is going to be the path that I follow. I know some people believe that plot beats limit their creativity, but I implore you to as least follow the main beats I’m going to outline below. If your plot follows a proven-to-work structure, and your character arc follows the same; then you’re only setting yourself up for success. My beats in this specific post are not ALL the beats that exist in the 3 Act Structure, so check out the entire beat sheet sheet with Jessica. This is a Character Arc Beat Sheet for your Protagonist, not the full complete plot beat sheet. The two are different, yet intertwine with each other. 

Act 1-The Protagonist Character Arc

The Hook

Firstly, the hook is right at the beginning of the story, and this is where you see your Protagonist’s “Shard of Glass”. You tell your readers: A./ This character is messed up in some way and dealing with some emotional wound. B./ This wound has created a deep seeded lie/misbelief within their worldview or about themselves. C./ This characters wants something they THINK will fix this wound and make their lives complete/happy/fulfilled. What they think they want will not bring them true happiness or satisfaction in the end. This is ESSENTIAL. 

The Inciting Incident

Their obviously needs to be some external event here, but here’s what a lot of writers miss. Whatever external thing that happens to lead the Protagonist off on their journey needs to be tied to the emotional wound from The Hook. It needs to essentially be the answer to the prayer this character has been yearning for. But there’s a big catch-and therein lies the risk. There must be major risks associated with going down this path, otherwise there’s no tension and no stakes and that’s boring to read about. That, and you’d have no story. So the character has one of two choices to make: either take this big risk and maybe get what they want most or just stay in their status-quo world and never get that thing. Of course, your character is going to choose to go forward, and therefore the story begins. 

The First Plot Point

At this point, your Protagonist is cruising along the story, and they’re living big time in their Lie. They’re going to have to engage a little bit more here, and become an active character with great agency. Which means they’re the ones pushing the story forward. I recommend you have your M.C. burn bridges and act on their Lie/Fear in this beat. They want something, but they also DON’T want something and they greatly FEAR something. Explore that here. Have whatever they do here cause a nasty domino effect for the other plot points later on for them internally and also externally with the plot. You want a character who’s out messing shit up, because that’s what makes them so great. They have nobody to blame but themselves.
Elsa from Frozen Protagonist

Act 2-The Protagonist Character Arc

Plot-twisting midpoint

Whatever game-changing mid-point turn you’ve got going on for your plot should correlate with another mid-point shift: your Protagonist’s perception of themselves. Before this point, your M.C. doesn’t believe they have a problem. Whatever their flaws are, whatever Lie they believe or Fears they’re running from, they haven’t seen it as an issue. Despite it running rampant and causing a multitude of issues and bad choices; your M.C. has been in denial. So as the plot takes a big tern, so shall your Protagonist’s self-perception of their issues. Their flaws, fears, and Lie. They need to begin seeing it as the problem it truly is. 
Rey Star Wars Protagonist

act 3-the protagonist character arc

The Disaster Beat

For example, at the beginning of Act 3, there should be either A./ A false victory or B./ A false defeat on the Plot side of things. Where your M.C. was considering they may have a problem before, they see it as a full on lights flashing, red sign right in their face. They see it, they know it, but their terrified of it. Their first instinct is to run from this truth, this awful realization they now have no choice but to face head on. Don’t let them run, because that leads them into The Dark Night of the Soul.

the dark night of the soul

After shit in the plot falls apart and goes to shit, your Protagonist is left wounded and on the floor. They see now, in the light of day, their flaws, fears, and the Lie. They can no longer justify. On their knees, bloodied and broken. They must come to terms with their misbelief, what they think they want-and what they need. They’ll either: A./ Get what they “want” and realize it doesn’t give them the contentment they thought, therefore choosing their need. OR B./ They’re forced to choose between what they “want” and what they “need”. Causing them to inevitably choose what they need in order to fully face the Antagonist. It’s critical they do this before any final confrontation with the Antagonist because “seeing the light” is the way they win against the antagonist. It gives them the strength when they were otherwise broken down and defeated.

The climax

Your Protagonist is now able to give the middle finger to their fears, to their Misbelief/Lie, and face the Antagonistic force having faced their biggest fears like a badass. It’s the boost they needed, the only way to beat the bad guy-it’s essential to the happy ending and actually beating whatever/whoever the Antagonist is and/or what they represent for the theme(s). This is why a Protagonist’s issues should be tied to plot-it’s all for this moment. Theme is reiterated here, your Protagonist is vindicated in choosing the right path-what they truly NEEDED in order to change, in order to beat the big baddy. This isn’t about a physical change or discovering something externally that’ll defeat the bad guy, that’s for the plot. This is giving your M.C. the INTERNAL strength to push forward and be victorious. It’s truly beautiful, and it gives readers that satisfying ending they want from you. 
Kill Bill

My Conclusion

In conclusion, I hope this 2-part blog on creating your dream Protagonist was helpful for you on your journey to writing your novel. Our Protagonist is the heart of our story, and readers really do care about how the plot effects them more than anything else. It truly isn’t about the plot, but you need plot to matter to your Protagonist. Otherwise, everything that happens is essentially irrelevant. And if it’s irrelevant, then why read the story? Ultimately, your main character is the star of this movie, and everything that happens has to be geared towards them and their internal journey. Make it matter to them, and make it personal. I promise this will put you above the average writer, and you can write the story of your dreams. 

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