SCREENPLAY.today How to Write a Screenplay
Home Start Here Screenwriting Cheat Sheet Film Analysis

Every screenplay is about a protagonist who [does something]. That something is what we’ll call his (or her) quest or goal.

Is your movie about a guy who saves the Earth from mutant bedbugs? Well, saving the Earth is his quest.

Is your movie about basketball? Well, your protagonist’s quest is probably to win the State Championship or something like that.

Whatever your protagonist’s quest is - he will choose to embark on that path at the First Turning-Point (which comes roughly 15 to 25 minutes into your movie).

Your main-character will also have a personal story-arc separate from the screenplay’s overall story-arc, do not confuse the two. They both might have similar structures.

At the First Turning-Point, your protagonist is presented with a choice. He can either remain neutral, with the status quo. Everything will remain the same. Or... He can choose to embark on his quest, whatever that is.

You will always choose to have your protagonist embark on that quest. Unless your movie is about someone overcoming a sedentary lifestyle or something like that of course. Otherwise, your movie’s going to be rather boring. Change is always good in the world of film.

When someone asks you what your movie’s going to be about, what do you say to them? Right now, what’s your idea? In one sentence, what’s your film about?

I, obviously, have no idea what you just said. However… Whatever it was - that’s your first turning-point!

Is your screenplay idea about a guy who has to win back is girlfriend?

Well, losing the girlfriend is the first turning-point. Getting her back is the quest. The guy is the protagonist (main-character). Etc…

NEXT UP…  THE GENRE!

So, what genre is your film going to fit into?

Every screenplay has a genre. What’s your’s?

BACK FORWARD The Protagonist’s Quest or Goal

THE PROTAGONIST’S QUEST

Literally their search for the Holy Grail! What does your main-character want or need? What are they trying to accomplish? What must they do (by the end of the story)?

08 “Clarity and consistency are not enough: the quest for truth requires humility and effort! ” - Tariq Ramadan

Is your movie going to be about a group of bank robbers who rob a bank?

Well, robbing the bank is the quest or goal. They decided to rob the bank at the first turning-point. Something terrible happens at the second turning-point which makes robbing the bank without getting caught nearly impossible now. And, any one (or all) of the bank-robbers can be your protagonist(s). Etc…

It’s important that your protagonist choose to embark on their quest. You don’t want to have protagonists where things just happen to them. You want them to be proactive. For instance, you are watching a tennis match between two kids you’ve never met. Both are equally cute. The only information you have is this: One of the kids really wants to win, he’s been studying tennis since he was a little boy, reading tennis-books at bedtime and hitting balls against the garage until the wee hours every night.

The other kid doesn’t really like tennis and is only playing for the prize-money.

Now, which one are you rooting for?

The one who wants to win, right?

Well, it’s the same thing here. The audience will root for your main-character to succeed in their quest more if the main-character wants to succeed.

So, the protagonist has to want something - and he has to choose to go get it!

Here’s how you plan out your protagonist’s quest.

First Act:

1. Introduce the protagonist and give him a character-flaw that must be overcome (if he ever hopes to succeed)

2. Tell us what we need to know (backstory, exposition, etc…)

3. The Protagonist chooses his quest at the first turning point (end of Act 1)


Second Act:

  4. Take us on a roller-coaster (the goal gets closer - the goal gets farther away - the goal gets closer…)

5. At the mid-point, give the protagonist a false-victory or a false-defeat

6. At the second turning-point (end of Act 2) raise the stakes tremendously, make the quest much harder to accomplish that it was a moment ago


Third Act:

7. Your protagonist overcomes his internal-conflict and changes as a person - and this (and only this) allows him to have a chance at succeeding in his goal (if your protagonist doesn’t overcome this character-flaw and complete his character-arc, he doesn’t stand a chance)

8. Your protagonist and antagonist square off for their final fight

9. Your protagonist succeeds (or fails) in his quest (but, at least, he is a better person now)

10. Your protagonist looks to the future and contemplates the new status quo

Desktop Site