Posted in Tips for Young Writers

The Fourth Protagonist

You know what a protagonist is, right? It’s the main character in your story. Easy-peasy. So what’s the fourth protagonist and why should you keep it in mind when you’re writing?The fourth protagonist is your reader and a wise author neverĀ  underestimates their reader. When someone reads your story they will bring their personality, experiences and understandings to bear on the story. When you describe a character as ‘beautiful’ or ‘cute’ each of your readers will picture something different (personally I picture Liam Hemsworth as he is in The Dressmaker my husband.). If it doesn’t matter particularly what readers think that character looks like, then that’s no problem. If it does, then you might need to get more specific with the details.

You also want to avoid alienating the fourth protagonist by either giving them too many unnecessary details (which is boring) or by telling them something which conflicts with what they believe to be true (which will turn them off your story).

Some examples:

Janelle walked into the kitchen. Along one wall there was a row off cream coloured cabinets hung over white granite countertops. Under the window there was a double stainless steel sink and along the other wall was a double-door fridge and a large stainless steel oven.

Daniel marched in behind her. “How dare you!”

Most people know what a kitchen looks like. They don’t need it described to them unless this is going to tell them something about the characters or move the story along. The readers will probably just skip the filler to get to the good bits.

Janelle walked into the kitchen.

Daniel marched in behind her. “How dare you!”

See? The reader will fill in the blanks.

What about this:

Brad and Jen back together! The reunion we’ve all been waiting for!

This is a headline that I read while I was waiting to pay for my groceries. It immediately put me off because it attributes thoughts and feelings to me that directly conflict with my true thoughts and feelings.

For it to be true I’d have to be happy that the marriages of four people have failed and happy about the wider fallout something like that causes. I’m not, so the headline makes me recoil.

So, whatever story you’re writing, you need to remember that you’re ultimately writing it for someone…and they’ve got their own ideas.


I'm an educator, mum and wife living in beautiful Victoria, Australia. I make learning resources for passionate, but time-poor, teachers in need of a better work-life balance. I'm a voracious reader, love a good curry, and believe life is always better with chocolate.

2 thoughts on “The Fourth Protagonist

  1. Loooool! I’m telling your husband!
    Love it! Where do you get all this great advice? From your writer get-togethers or your bonce and experience?

    PS I think it is ‘to bear on the story.’

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