STORYTELLING | Who is Your Protagonist?

publication date: Oct 19, 2022
author/source: Fraser Green

This is Part 3 of a series.  See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Step 1: Protagonist

Protagonist: the principal character in a literary work (such as a drama or story): the leading actor or principal character in a television show, movie, book, etc., an active participant in an event: a leader, proponent, or champion of a cause.

One thing that all stories have in common is this: they’re all about SOMEBODY. The protagonist – or main character in your story – is the person who’s at the centre of it all. The one we get to know the best - and hopefully, the one we’ll all relate to. 

If you recall, the previous installment in this series talked about the desired outcome of a well-told story. Your overall objective in storytelling is to have your audience suspend their disbelief and become a part of your story. Almost always, your audience does this by becoming the protagonist. Feeling his feelings. Walking in his shoes. Going through all his ups and downs. 

Whether it’s Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, Ariel in The Little Mermaid or Sisyphus from Greek mythology, every story has a lead character that the action revolves around. Now, as the creator of your story, you have the opportunity to tailor your story to your audience. 

Let’s say you’re fundraising for a hospital foundation and you’re going to tell a story about a cancer journey. Who would you select as your protagonist? 

  • If the story was going to be in a direct mail letter, you might choose the 65-year-old mother of the cancer patient. 
  • If the story was going to be promoted on Instagram, you might choose the 37-year-old patient herself. 
  • Depending on the audience you most want to reach, you could tell the story through the eyes of the doctor, the patient’s spouse, the patient’s child or the researcher who came up with a new treatment for a particular type of cancer.

The key idea is to choose the protagonist that best matches the audience you care about most. When your target audience member easily sees herself reflected in the protagonist, you’ll have the best chance of having that audience member cross that bridge and become a part of your story.

This leads to another element of a truly great story. 

One of the most important things you can do in creating your story is to get very clear about your desired audience before you write a single word. Are you writing to older people? People who live in small towns? People who are devout in their religious beliefs? You’ll do a better job of creating your story if you actually have a picture and persona of your audience member in your head before you even start.

Once you’re really, really clear on the people you most want to reach, you can then do your best job of “matching” your protagonist to your audience. Once you’ve done this successfully, you’re well on your way to telling a perfect story.

So, when you’re setting out to create your story, start with two central tasks. First, think long and hard about the audience you most want to reach. And then, choose the protagonist who that audience with most easily and completely relate to.

Do these two things well, and you’re well on your way to telling the perfect story.

Fraser Green is a Principal at Good Works, one of Canada’s leading fundraising consulting agencies. At Good Works, Fraser’s focus is on legacy gift marketing strategy, donor research and, well, storytelling! Fraser is the co-author of “Iceberg Philanthropy” and “You Can’t Take It With You – The Art and Science of Legacy Fundraising” and the author of “3D Philanthropy.”


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