I attended a very similar panel last year, but it’s funny how some of the information is exactly the same, and some panelists will have completely different takes on the same topic.
-Protagonist is necessary, hero is optional.
-Hero tries to do the right thing, usually after doing the wrong thing several times.
-Protag is the character that learns, grows and changes the most by the end of the story. (Neville vs. Harry in Harry Potter series)
-Protag doesn’t always have to be good, but they should be good at sometime. Gives something to root for. (Sons of Anarchy)
-Motivation is key- likeability is based on relationships moreso than actions.
-Gene Roddenberry made all heroes good and moral, and villians were bad and did bad things- no shades of grey.
-Grimdark- dark and gritty
-What makes a good character? Strength, depth (how they handle failures, they don’t always succeed but how do they put themselves back together?), motivation and conflict (goal must be noble somehow and relatable), CORE (hero has something inside that can’t be broken, even if everything around them IS broken), choice (character must make a choice to do the right thing even if they’re otherwise weak), clever.
-Funny, bad circumstance, kind, good at what they do-there are ways to build sympathy, best if you have 2 or 3.
-Scarlett O’Hara- Does shitty things, but she is the only character with strength, her goal is to keep her family’s plantation.
-Make the reader want to know what the end of the character’s story is.
-There are also stories where the characters and plot are just a mechanism to move the reader through a really cool world- Wizard of Oz, Narnia, Harry Potter, etc.