Screenwriting 101: The Dynamic Protagonist

Photo courtesy of bookaddict24-7.com

By Brock Cooper (DoddleNews)

When was the last time you watched a movie and thought, “Wow, that was an awesome hero?” You probably remember the bad guy far more than the good guy, am I right? Who do you remember most from Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling or Doctor Lecter.

While the bad guys are always the most fun to write, we can’t lose sight of the main character… the protagonist. If you don’t have a dynamic protagonist, then you don’t have a good movie. End of story… literally. Here are some ways you can keep your hero the main focus.

Goals

The movie revolves around one thing…what the protagonist wants. “Silence of the Lambs” isn’t about Lector’s bid to get out of prison or Buffalo Bills quest for the ultimate people suit. It’s about Starling’s need and desire to catch the killer and be considered an equal in everyone’s eyes.

If you want to protagonist to be dynamic, then the movie always has to be about his journey and what he wants. When you lose focus and make it about the bad guys or some peripheral plot point, then you lose your audience. Protagonists don’t have to be the most fun part to write, but it has to be the main part of the movie.

The goal can change throughout the movie, but the goal has to be his or hers. The goal may begin as simple as leaving his home town, but as the film progresses that goal could change to become rescuing his long lost love or even saving the universe.

In Star Wars, Luke can’t compare, character-wise, to Han Solo, but it’s never Solo’s goal we’re following.

Dilemma

A dynamic protagonist isn’t just about a hero’s physical journey, but an emotional one as well. You need the audience to care about what happens to him. He needs to always be on the verge of making the bad decision that will change his life forever. The runner who is always on the threshold of giving up. The young farm boy that is filled with anger and could turn to the dark side.

Without this conflict, you character is just a machine being pulled to his destination. The audience may know in their heart of hearts that the protagonist is not going to make that bad choice, but there always has to be that twinge of doubt. Without this dilemma, your protagonist is just a flat machine.

Weakness

It may seem counterintuitive to think of your dynamic hero as having weaknesses. The reality is that not every hero is perfect, and it’s these weaknesses that help the audience relate to him. Starling is young and doubts her own abilities. Skywalker is naïve, brash and headstrong. Your protagonist can’t be perfect because his weaknesses help to define and manipulate his dilemma. Weakness and dilemma are two different concepts, but deeply related. Your audience isn’t perfect and the struggle with their weaknesses and dilemmas every day. You protagonist should have at least one if not more than one weakness. A weakness that can be exploited by the bad guy.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a drama, comedy, action or horror. The protagonist is still the same and the point of the movie is still the same. The protagonist needs something and the rest of the movie his about how he gets it.

Check out our other Screenwriting tutorials here.