Screenplays Defined– The Bad and The Fugly – Part 2
Let's discuss the Hero or Protaganist Character.
Every screenwriter has at some point picked up a book on format, structure, story-telling, dialogue, and plots. Yet many screenplays (and sometimes the movies made from them) fall flat. Why?
As you begin to read more and more scripts you begin to notice patterns in the writing. What compels you to turn a page? Why do you want to see what is in the next scene? If you make it through the 90 to 120ish pages do you feel like the story was resolved?
Some books define the first ACT as the setup. They have the hero or protagonist begin the story in their normal surroundings. The Inciting Incident or first major plot point is what really gets the story going. This is the place in the script that generally defines the main plot, or answers “what is this story about?”
It is an event.
But BEFORE the inciting incident there needs to be SOMETHING to connect the reader or audience to the hero character. Why should we care about the character? Why should we be invested in the next two hours?
The answer is simply… EMPATHY.
This is generally neglected in many first time screenplay writers. Too often the writer rushes to get to the inciting incident and into the action without first setting up the character in a way that the audience will care and connect with.
When I read screenplays now I will commit to 15-20 pages. Within that space the hero character needs to possess qualities that will make me connect with them, as well as attributes that will later be helpful to the story. Using the first 10-15 pages to not only create the character and their world, but also their abilities is critical to later keep your story (and film) moving forward.
Remember DIE HARD? Everyone liked McClane (Willis’s character). Why? He was a cop but also quite a normal guy with fears (heights and flying, even marital commitments), he’s visiting L.A. not to take down terrorist but simply to reconcile with his wife over the Christmas holiday. All his actions in the first few minutes paints a clear picture of who he is, and the audience likes him instantly. After he takes on the bad guys, he struggles, gets hurt several times, and struggles to out think the terrorists.
Now take A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. Blah. Why? He fears nothing. He kills bad guys left and right, almost mechanical. Very little is shown about his fears or vulnerabilities. When a bad guy gets in the way we just know he’s going to get killed by McClane. The story goes flat pretty fast.
Now go back to your favorite screenplays or even your own and see if you can spot scenes that show the character in a way that we can empathize with. When re-writing your story be sure to include sections in there that will make us like the characters, even just a little.
By George L. Heredia, Screenwriter/Director