- Through courage: The character uses his unbreakable inner strength and courage to solve his problems and reach his purpose. Excellent for dramas and stories of personal growth.
- Through sacrifice: The hero will give everything up, even himself, to reach the goal. This one is especially good for melodramas.
- Through applying himself: The hero uses his brain and creativity and applies it to the study of each step of the problem until its resolution. Great for stories of mystery.
- Through a special ability: The hero has a unique ability or acquires this special ability in the course of the story. This is tailored for superhero stories.
- Through a weapon: The protagonist has or gets a special weapon that eventually will be able to defeat the villain.
The possible combinations of these five ways to succeed are evidently endless.
Can the protagonist fail?
Here the protagonist can’t reach his goal and is defeated by the events of the story. It is as if life itself was against him and he simply fails. The character may even have some personal accomplishments, but can’t get the thing he really wanted. Money cannot buy everything.
What defeats the protagonist is usually not the villain, but himself. The hero is his own worst enemy. Perhaps he didn’t prepare himself enough, self-sabotages, refuses to see what he is doing wrong or doesn’t face his personal demons, and thus doesn’t grow as a person – he does not learn nor mature. Here, the examples of the success argument are backward:
Solution → Problem
Solution → Mystery
Peace → Conflict
Order → Confusion
Decision → Dilemma
Knowledge → Ignorance
Answer → Question
The character tries to fix thing but only makes them worse. The protagonist has relative peace and creates conflict. Many comedies use this; the struggle (and not the goal) is the fundamental element when creating these types of characters, who are mainly defeated in three ways:
By circumstances: The hero deserves to reach his goal, but in the end, this doesn’t happen because life is not fair and bad things happen to good people.
By weakness or obsession: The protagonist has a dark side which leads him to his destruction.
By bad decisions: The hero has the capability to succeed but, as if cursed, always makes the worst possible choice and takes the worst of decisions. This way, unlike the first two which are guided by the plot, is determined by the character: he is the cause of his defeat.