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Creating a good character-arc for your protagonist is probably the toughest part about screenwriting.

When people come up with their idea for a movie, it never includes the protagonist’s character-arc (also known as the character’s internal-conflict).

Movies aren’t about a guy who saves the world - they are about a guy who changes and, by doing so, saves the world in the process.

The Internal Conflict

How is your main-character different at the end of your screenplay? How did he change over the course of your story? What internal-conflict was holding him back all these years?


Everyone focuses so much on the main-plot that they often completely neglect the sub-plots! They focus on the main-character so much, they forget about the supporting-characters. Give them something to do too!

BACK “Characterization is integral to the theatrical experience!” - Robert Ludlum 06

Give your main-character a flaw of some sort. Not an external flaw, like a limp, but an internal flaw like bigotry (or alcoholism, or pomposity, etc...).

This internal, character-flaw should be the thing that is most preventing your protagonist from succeeding in his goal.

Maybe your movie is about a baseball player who’s loud-mouthed, doesn’t respect his team-mates and puts in almost no effort. Well, he’s not going to win the World Series - until he changes. Until he learns to respect his team-mates, the coaches, the team and the game itself.

If your screenplay’s about a father who is never home and doesn’t give children the attention they deserve - it won’t be until he finally learns the true value of family that the solution to his bigger problem presents itself.

If your protagonist’s a drug-addict, it won’t be until he gets clean that he can finally achieve his goal and succeed in his quest, whatever that is.

Protagonists that don’t change are boring. We want to see growth in our characters.

Your protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to become a better person, he could just as easily start out as a guy who’s just too darn nice - and he grows by learning to become rude and selfish! The character-flaw doesn’t necessarily have to be an objectively bad thing. Just something that’s preventing your protagonist from ultimately getting what he wants.

And, your protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to actually change either. He can be presented with the option to change - and he can choose not to change after all.  And he can go right back to the way he’s always been. But, of course, this changes the tone to something closer to black comedy and makes him look curmudgeonly.

Your protagonist just needs to have some kind of internal flaw or conflict - and to then decide whether he’s going to change or not. This will add great depth to your script.

How many times have you seen a movie where the main-character is a really bad guy - who does terrible, terrible things - and dies at the end, sacrificing himself for the girl/woman/townsfolk/friends?

Anti-heroes can’t survive, seeing as Hollywood hates showing bad-guys prosper and only wants wholesome Judeo-Christian-type stories, so his redemption is typically sacrificing himself for others.

He starts out being selfish and criminal - and ends up sacrificing himself for others. And, if he doesn’t make that choice, and put others ahead of himself for once, everyone dies and all is lost. By growing as a person, he is able to beat all the bad-guys (and the antagonist in the epic final-battle) and save the day.

And, don’t just stop with your main-character/protagonist! If you want to, you are perfectly free to add character-arcs to the other important characters in your script! Give your sub-plots and supporting-characters far more depth by adding a character-arc here or there.

Character-flaws also help you create better characters. You are going to have to think-deeply about how your character-flaw came to exist in your character. Which is going to force you to think about that character’s background and backstory. It’s going to make you think of their family-life and/or childhood. Etc…

For your villain or antagonist, their character-flaw is often the reason for their ultimate downfall (a fatal flaw!).

The protagonist overcomes his flaw - and wins.

The antagonist does not overcome his flaw - and loses.

A character-flaw can be just about anything. Any personality-trait, phobia, problem, deficiency, etc…

Notable movies with major character flaws: Bad Lieutenant, Man Bites Dog, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Social Network, The Verdict, I Stand Alone, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Ichi the Killer and There Will Be Blood.


Your protagonist needs an internal-conflict (a flaw in his character) that he overcomes by the end of your screenplay. This so-called character-arc is what your movie is really about. The plot is what you tell people the movie’s about, but the character-arc is the story you’re really telling.

This character-flaw is what is holding your protagonist back from succeeding in his quest. It won’t be until he overcomes this flaw and evolves as a person that he’ll finally be able to win (or do whatever it is he has to do at the climax). Overcoming this flaw leads directly to his ultimate victory.

Now, to break it all down…




And, if you really want to succeed in this business, you can go ahead and structure your character-arc in the typical three-act structure!

FORWARD The Protagonist’s Character-Arc The First Turning-Point - The last scene of your first act, when your protagonist chooses his quest The Second Turning-Point - the last scene of the second act The Climax - the conclusion of your story-line, the ending Related Articles: How to Write a Screenplay: Welcome to SCREENPLAY.today - We'll teach you how to write your very own Hollywood-style script or screenplay - for free! SCREENPLAY.today Online Screenwriting Course - Learn How To Write a Top-Quality Script for a Film or Movie - FREE!