Though many writers use these terms interchangeably, they refer to two different kinds of functions in your story’s structure.
The Protagonist is the driver behind the effort to achieve the story’s goal.
The Main Character grapples with a personal issue of morality, philosophy, or point of view.
Often these two functions are given to the same character in your story. When they are both combined into one individual, it forms the basis of the stereotypical “hero” who not only must achieve the goal, but must also resolve a personal issue.
But, these functions can be given to two separate characters, such as in both the book and movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird in which the protagonist is Atticus, the righteous lawyer in a 1930s southern town who seeks to get a fair trial for a black man accused of rape.
But, the main character is Atticus’ young daughter, Scout. No only do we see the story unfold through her eyes, but she has to grow to rid herself of her own bias against the mentally impaired man who lives next door, Boo Radley.
She sees him as a boogey man – someone out to hurt children. But in fact, Boo is protective of the children and prevents the antagonist of the story from harming the children.
The structure is stronger since Atticus never has to question his beliefs in equal protection under the law and can therefore fight for his goal wholeheartedly. But with Scout’s prejudice against Boo without ever having met him, we learn how easy it is for even the most good-natured and innocent of us to harbor bias and prejudice while never seeing it in ourselves.
Learn more about story structure by reading our 350 page book, Dramatica – A New Theory of Story, free on our website.
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