False Protagonists

Hey Lovelies!

This week we are going to be talking about false protagonists. Yay! Next week we’ll be talking about Heroes and Anti-heroes, which should be very fun.

What is a false protagonist?

A False Protagonist is a character that is made out to be the protagonist, but is later revealed not to be. The character either disappears from the text slowly, is killed or is revealed to be the antagonist of the story.

So here are some examples to help you understand this a bit better:

  • The Fade:
    • Harry Potter and Star Wars. In the opening chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we get the perspective of Vernon Dudley. We get to see him and his interactions with the magical community and his disdain of their behavior. As soon as Rowling introduces Harry, Vernon Dudley fades into the background and reveals Harry as the true protagonist of the story. The same thing happens in Star Wars. At the beginning of the movie, we have C-3PO and R2-D2 trying to fulfill their mission to deliver a message to Obi-wan Kenobi. However, when R2-D2 and C-3PO encounter Luke Skywalker they fade into the background as Luke takes over the story as the protagonist.
  • Killed Off:
    • Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and A Game of Thrones. Alfred Hitchcock focuses his story on Marion Crane. She ends up stealing a lot of money from her employer and then flees to the north to surprise her lover. Unfortunately, she checks into the Bates’ Motel and is killed. This allows Mario Crane’s sister, Lila, to become the protagonist of the film. In A Game of Thrones, the author has multiple view points from different characters, but the protagonist is considered to be Ned Stark. However, Ned Stark is killed off before the end of the book. It is also a big feature to the series that the protagonists are killed off to make room for new protagonists to take over, which keeps readers in suspense wondering if their favorite character is going to get bumped off.
  • Protagonist as the Antagonist:
    • Disney’s Frozen. The movie starts off with Princess Elsa and Princess Ana playing and Princess Ana getting hurt accidentally. The accident is resolved, but fear wracks Princess Elsa throughout her life until she ends up getting confronted by her sister for avoiding her and freezes her home of Arendelle. She becomes the – unintentional – villain as she is the one that could ruin the lives of her people if she cannot undo her spell. Princess Elsa also fades into the background allowing her sister Ana to be revealed as the true protagonist.

These character types have been around for a long time and you can even find examples of it in The Book of Samuel. And all of these false protagonists are a bit of a cliche. They either fade or they are killed off. It took me a bit of time and effort to think of an example where the protagonist turned into the antagonist. So if anyone else has any more suggestions I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d pass that along.

Now how do we make a great false protagonist? Well you follow what I said in my post last week about Protagonists!. Or you find a new way to get rid of your false protagonist and turn the cliche on its head.

Until next week.



2 thoughts on “False Protagonists

  1. I like your definition of the false protagonist.

    I’m currently writing a short story where there is a reversal between antagonist and protagonist. The neighbor (who you think is the protagonist) becomes the antagonist.

    However, I disagree with you on one point. In Psycho, Norman Bates is never the protagonist: https://literarydevices.net/protagonist/

    He’s the antagonist, not the hero of the story. After Marion dies, her sister Lila becomes the protagonist, and also her boyfriend, Sam.

    I wrote a short post on Psycho (1960) called “The Consequences of Acting on Impulse.” If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback: https://christopherjohnlindsay.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/psycho-1960/

    1. Hi Chris,

      I’m glad you found my definition of a false protagonist useful. 😉

      Your story sounds interesting and if you’re ever up for sharing it with someone I’d love to take a look at it and provide feedback if you’d like.

      I totally agree with you about Norman Bates. I had a bit of a time crunch to get the post done on time and had him on the brain. I must have missed my mistake in a quick editing job. Thanks for pointing it out to me! I will be sure to change it.

      I will most cettainly take a look at it. 😉

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