THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE MAIN CHARACTER
ALL stories have only one main character. Even in a movie filled with an ensemble cast, the story is ultimately about one person's journey. It’s one person's path to growth and they’re surrounded by other characters in the world. So when you’re writing your amazing screenplays, make sure you can identify who that main character is.
Looking at films like Inglorious Bastards, it seems like the story has multiple main characters. We follow several story lines that intertwine but, when you break it down, the story is ultimately about Shosanna. It’s her growth, her story, her revenge on the actions that take place in the beginning. The rest of the cast is all supporting.
Think about it, when someone asks you what a movie is about, you say it’s about this guy/girl who…there’s one main character. I bring this up because it’s important for your audience (whether it’s a reader or movie goer) to be able to identify who the main character of your story is. Looking at your screenplay, can you easily identify who that character is? Let’s look into this further to be able to identify it.
WHO IS ON THE ADVENTURE?
The most telling way to know who the main character is, know who is on the adventure. About a quarter of the way into a story, something happens propelling a character into the adventure of the story. This is where you need to be able to easily identify who the main character is. Again, in the movie Mulan, it’s when she steals her father's armor and joins the military.
Some films are not as easy to determine who is on the adventure. Thelma and Louise is a good example of a film where two characters are on a road trip together. It seems like the film is about both women, however it isn’t. The movie is about Thelma. It’s her adventure, Louise is just on it with her.
Think I’m wrong? Let’s look at another way to identify the main character to try and help make this a little more clear.
WHICH CHARACTER SHOWS THE MOST GROWTH
In a story filled with many characters, several of them can show growth throughout. Some turn weaknesses into strengths and others show the opposite. Some characters start out strong and pushy and end as more of a pushover. Others start out as a pushover and end calling the shots. The key here is that the main character will show the most growth.
Looking back at the clear example of Mulan, in the beginning she is very indecisive, clumsy and tentative. She’s very unsure of who she is. By the conclusion of the film, Mulan is a capable and confident decision maker who knows exactly who she is.
If you look back at Thelma and Louise, Thelma is the very subdued and unsure character in the beginning. Is she that way in the end? Does she show the most growth? Give it a watch and take a look for yourself.
As you write, you need to be able to easily identify who the main character is. Take a look back at your own stories. Do you know who that main character is? Is it clear to the audience? Is it clear to you?
When I wrote ‘The Remedy’, I thought the movie was a love story about a man and woman on a road trip. Each character has their own storyline, each shows growth and we follow both throughout. But it’s not about both characters. It’s the journey of a man who loses everything, including himself and needs to find it again. He needs to find the love, he needs to find his reason for life once more.
I urge you to revisit your scripts as you outline, as you write and as you revise and make sure you can identify who the main character is. Make sure you know who the story is about. If it’s unclear to yourself, it’s going to be unclear to others. Make changes, make improvements and make your story stronger.
Do you know other ways to identify a main character? Do you have other great examples? Leave a comment and share with the other failures!