The main character in a film script is the crown jewel in your story. Every scene in your script should reinforce what the character’s ultimate goal is and the lengths they will go to achieve it. They should be put in peril and constantly tested to bring out their strengths and weaknesses. As your script progresses your main character will steadily turn those weaknesses around. But it will take them a lot of work and effort.
The main character needs to be put in such intense situations that he is broken down, only to be built back up in a stronger form.
Make sure that:
Your Main Character Is Imperfect
Your main character should have plenty of vulnerabilities and imperfections, otherwise you have no where to go with them. If you start your script with a main character who is already complete and ideal then they will be able to overcome any problem you throw at them too easily.
The Character’s Goal Is Clear
If you’ve started the scriptwriting process with a firm idea of the story then this one should come naturally. You already know the basic story arc and where the lead character is going. However if you’re trying to build a story around a character then you need to make sure they have a well defined goal. Your main character will go to any lengths to reach their goal, throwing themselves into more and more dangerous situations as a result.
The Main Character Re-Acts and Acts
Never have a main character just stand and watch as an event unfolds. They need to re-act and then act. Imagine for a moment that your family has been kidnapped and you have been left a few clues on how to find them. Your immediate re-action would be to feel upset and angry, although possibly relieved that you have a window of opportunity to get them back. You would then act by looking into the clues and trying to find out exactly where your family are and how you can get them back. That is you re-acting and then acting on a situation. Your main character in a film script needs to have this “think and do” mentality to every situation, even if the “do” often overshadows the “think”.
No Character Is More Dynamic Than Your Main Character
Your main character needs to be the richest, deepest character in your script. Otherwise why aren’t we following the story of this side character? If you find yourself halfway through a script and a side character is emerging as more interesting than a main character then there are a few different actions you can take. You could simply replace this character with a less interesting creation, and keep the character in mind for another script. Another option is to reduce the role of the side character, giving them less time to shine. Or you could kill off this side character as another obstacle or an inciting incident for the main character.
Then again you could always change the story up a little and turn the script into more of a buddy movie.
You Realise Less Is More
Keep your story focused on no more than two or three characters. There is a reason ensemble (four or more main characters) movies rarely work. In the space of two hours it is hard enough to flesh out and keep one character focused, let alone a handful. It is also very hard to get four or five big Hollywood stars to work together at the same time while receiving equal billing. If you have a story with half a dozen main characters then you might want to consider condensing their characteristics into two or three main characters and one side character.
You Build Sympathy In Your Main Character
Look at any western movie, especially a John Wayne film. John Wayne’s house would be destroyed, his land ruined, his wife raped, his family killed or any other number of horrific events would happen. You can imagine how awful you’d feel if any of these things happened to you. It gives John Wayne a green light to do anything he wants while seemingly perfectly justified in his actions.
Your main character will have something taken away from them in such a way that they will still seem the “good guy” no matter how far they go to improve the situation they are in.
Your Main Character Controls Your Writing
The main character in a film script will occasionally start to lead you in direction you didn’t expect. Don’t worry, that’s good. This means that your character has a life of their own rather than borrowing off yours. If they start going too far, turning the story on its head then you might need to reign them back a bit. Remember that the character is a player in your created world and when they start going in their own direction it’s a good indication that your character is growing into a “real person”, or at least as close as you can get in a script.
Your main character will make or break your script. Keep them focused, driven and goal orientated and they’ll stand out as a cut above the rest.