Written by JJ Barnes
If your audience root for your protagonist, they will care about their story.
The relationship between your Protagonist and your audience should always be a priority. If your audience don’t care about what happens to your Protagonist, they won’t care what happens in your story.
The trick is to keep them invested in the outcome so they want to stick around long enough to experience it. I’ll talk you through how to write a Protagonist that your audience will root for, so they want to invest their time and care in your story.
What Do They Want?
You don’t join your Protagonist at any random moment in their lives. You join them now because there is a story to tell, and that means they’re in pursuit of a goal.
Let your audience know quickly what story it is they’re reading. It could be something small like wanting to fall in love or find a new job, or it could be something big like saving the world from aliens. You join them now in their lives to follow that conflict unfolding.
If your Protagonist doesn’t want anything for themselves, your audience won’t want anything for them either. Making sure they have a clear goal will give your audience something to root for, something to hope for.
Keep your Protagonist motivated from the Inciting Incident, through to the climax. As long as they care and are motivated to achieve a goal, your audience will be motivated to stick with them and see if they accomplish it.
How An Interesting Antagonist Can Make You Root For Your Protagonist
Just as your Protagonist is your audiences’ access to why your story is worth sticking with, your Antagonist is what keeps your story entertaining.
The role of your Antagonist is to stand in the way of your Protagonist and make their journey a challenge. If your Protagonist could just get what they want without a challenge, your story would be boring. You need a motivated and interesting Antagonist to provide that challenge.
With an Antagonist who challenges your Protagonist, your Protagonist will be forced to grow and change. When an audience that sees a character working and improving themselves, being motivated enough to learn, they’re immediately more appealing. You root for them to accomplish their goals because they’re working hard to do it.
Without an Antagonist forcing them into that position, your Protagonist will have no reason to go on that journey.
Your Audience Will Root For Your Protagonist If They’re Likeable
The final way to make sure your audience roots for is to write somebody likeable. It’s possible to write a Protagonist who isn’t particularly likeable, as long as the story is captivating enough, but if your audience likes the person who’s shoulders they’re riding on it’s going to be much easier.
A likeable character isn’t a perfect person. Flaws and mistakes show humanity, and a human character is relatable. If your audience can picture themselves responding to the challenges your Protagonist faces in a similar way they can feel more closely connected to your story. We all make mistakes, we all do things wrong, so your Protagonist should too.
The way to make a flawed personality likeable is in how they respond to failure or mistakes. A likeable person will see the error in their choices and aspire to improve themselves. If they hurt somebody they will apologise and make amends. If your audience sees your Protagonist behaving like this they will root for them, because they kindness and humanity is clear.
An unlikeable character will blame others for their mistakes, assume the error happened to them rather than because of them. Personalities like this can be interesting and provide great conflict, but they’re not the people you hope achieve their goals.
Giving your Protagonist a rich and developed back story will make sure they are interesting and deep. You don’t necessarily explore that history a lot, but it’s there shaping how they respond. They have emotional scars that cause them pain, they have things they aspire to beyond just the story goal.
A Protagonist that has clearly lived a life before the story begins, and can go on to live beyond The End, will feel real. Your audience will root for them because of how real they feel, and how connected they are to the world they live in.
Don’t overload your story with back story, just let it shape them and reference memories when they have specific responses to events.
These tips should help you write a Protagonist your audience will root for. If they root for them to achieve their goal, they’ll emotionally invest themselves in watching it happen, and stick around to the end. You can always devastate them emotionally by having your Protagonist fail if you prefer, but as long as your audience wants them to get what they want you have their attention.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose