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Every screenplay needs a protagonist. Well, not every screenplay, I guess. You can occasionally get away with a movie that doesn’t have a protagonist. I mean, every 20 years or so there’s another Slacker.

But, no one ever saw Slacker, so yeah, you’re going to need a protagonist. And, if you want your movie to appeal to the masses, that protagonist should be rather populist and endearing as well.


The most important character you’ll create is your protagonist, or main-character. They are the one the audience relates to. They are the one every scene hinges around. Don’t neglect him (or her)!


Every script should be planned out thoroughly in advance.

Without the right story-structure, you’ll end up with a boring mess. Half of your time should probably be spent on creating the structure. Half.

BACK “A black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings, I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.” - Jean-Michel Basquiat 03

Your protagonist has to be engaging and relatable to the average person, but that doesn’t mean he has to be a man. Or a woman. Or a boy. Or a girl.

A protagonist can be pretty much anything: a group of people, a car, a school of fish, an alien robot, a leprechaun, anything at all.

Just so long as you give your protagonist a quest to accomplish.

There’s a reason why most Hollywood movies have a 20 or 30-something white male as the main-character: the American movie-going audience is majority-white, and that’s just what white-audiences are used to (and most attracted to): white audiences want to see hot white people, just like black audiences want to see hot black people and Asian audiences want to see hot Asians…

You don’t have to follow the racist and sexist conventions of Hollywood, just be aware that these factors do affect your livelihood. Don’t expect to write a movie about Burmese midgets and have Hollywood come rushing to your door the same as they would if your story was about rich young people in Manhattan.

I probably don’t need to mention, but you should almost certainly write your screenplay in English. American-audiences are extremely biased against non-English-language films. So, if your screenplay is in Italian or Portuguese, you’ll have a harder time getting it made than if it was in English. The box-office will be a lot smaller. Your shooting budget will be smaller. Less people will buy tickets. You’ll get far fewer and smaller tv & video distribution offers. Etc…

You don’t have to follow this xenophobic convention, but again, be aware of it. It does actually affect your business-prospects tremendously. Hollywood wants wholesome, Judeo-Christian stories starring the most attractive people they can afford (they have to be able to act though) who are exceedingly-popular with the American-audience. Almost exclusively.

Try not to list any potential actors or actresses in your script. The one exception would be when describing a character, you might want to say that they are a ‘John Goodman-type’ or something like that.

Remember how I mentioned earlier that directing is not your job?

Well, casting is not your job either. At all. The director and producers and casting director are the ones who get to do that, not the writer.

Don’t cast your main-characters in the screenplay!

They won’t take your calls.  And, you can’t afford them anyway, even if you could get a hold of them. And, besides, they’re probably booked for the next three years straight anyhow.

Now that you have your protagonist (aka the main-character), you are going to need a character-arc. Your protagonist is going to need a flaw. A flaw that is harming his or her life tremendously. A flaw that is preventing him from achieving his goal. It doesn’t matter how close the protagonist gets to achieving his quest and saving the day, he’s never going to actually be able to do it - until he overcomes his character-flaw and becomes a better person.

Probably the most famous example of this is the down-on-his-luck, alcoholic lawyer. He gets the big case and is a huge underdog. But, he’ll never be able to actually beat the massive opposing law-firm - until he gets sober.

So, he finally sees the error of his ways and gets sober. This allows him to be in peak form in court and win the lawsuit with some ingenious legal wrangling at the last second.

A racist protagonist will have to overcome his prejudices before he can win.

A protagonist who treats his family poorly and neglects them all the time - will have to learn the true-value of love and family or all will be lost.

Your protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to change by the

end of your script, but he should be given the opportunity to change. He can choose not to change, if he wants. You can have him choose bad. But, of course, that will drastically alter the feel of your story (and could possibly add a bit of a black-comedy element).

Also, your main-character doesn’t necessarily have to go from flawed - to unflawed. Your character-arc can go the other way as well. Your protagonist can be too-good, and his constant do-goodery is ruining his life - and he changes into being an asshole!

Just make sure your main-character changes somehow, that he’s a different person by the end of your script (than he was at the beginning).

He’s finally overcome the flaw that was holding him back.

Your story, your entire screenplay, is really about this change. The plot and all that other stuff is really secondary to your protagonist’s character-arc. Your story is really be about this character who changes in some meaningful way. The plot is just the bells-and-whistles. When it comes deep down to it, your story is about the character and how he changes, not about what happens to him or her.

Take Trainspotting, for example.  The movie’s really about Renton finally giving up heroin, not about him stealing the money from his friends, Begby, diarrhea, or whatever. The film isn’t about stealing money or any of that other stuff at all. It’s about Renton realizing that his friends are bad for him, and that his life will never change and that he’ll be a heroin-addict forever if he doesn’t get out of there, out of that lifestyle, away from his friends. He needs to ‘choose life.’

And, that’s just what he does at the end.

The movie isn’t about heroin, it’s about him choosing life. ‘Choose life’ is even the very first thing on the movie poster!

Most screen-writers choose their protagonist with little or no regard to that character’s internal-arc. Don’t make that mistake!

Before you create your protagonist and his or her backstory - think about what their character-arc is going to be! Think about how their character-flaw is holding them back and preventing them from getting what they want. Think about how they are going to overcome this flaw. Think about how this internal character-CHANGE is finally going to allow them to win and achieve their ultimate goal.

Do this - and your characters will be well-rounded and your stories will be deep and meaningful (and keep the audience enthralled).

This is what your film is really about. This change. Your screenplay’s not about the asteroid on a collision-course with Earth - it’s about a father learning to let go of his daughter as she becomes a woman and falls in love with Ben Affleck.

Or, well, you get my point anyway…

FORWARD Your Screenplay’s Compelling Protagonist 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!