It doesn’t matter whether a Hollywood hero lives in the Bronx or on Neptune, they often seem to have one thing in common…
They’re all outsiders.
And if you want your protagonist to really resonate with an audience, it’s a good idea to really ramp up your protagonist’s outsider qualities.
Next time you watch a film, (well, maybe not a Horror) think about the life circumstances of the hero.
They’re not that great, right?
They’re often depressed with their lot in life. They don’t fit in. They’re outsiders.
– In Lethal Weapon, Riggs is clinically depressed over the death of his wife and suicidal. He’s an outsider.
– In The 40 Year Old Virgin, Andy is outside mainstream norms when it comes to sex and he’s something of a loner.
– In The Truman Show, Truman couldn’t be more outside society — he doesn’t even know his whole existence is a lie.
– In American Beauty, Lester hates his job and is hated by his own family. How outside of things can a middle-aged family man get?
– In the Bourne Identity, Jason doesn’t even know who he is!
I could go on.
Often the hero in Action / Adventure films is not only an outsider but almost always an orphan too.
– In Star Wars, both Luke’s parent’s are dead and he’s being raised by his aunt and uncle.
– In Spiderman, the writers go one step further — both his parents are dead, he’s being raised by his aunt and uncle, and then just for good measure, midway through the film his uncle’s bumped off too.
So, why is this? Why do most heroes in film have to be orphans and outsiders at the beginning of the movie?
Well, the simple answer is character growth.
All films are about change. Without being in a bad place at the beginning of the movie they’d have no room for growth and character change.
We as the audience (however subtly) want to learn something about life when we go to see a movie.
We want to live vicariously in the shoes of the hero for two hours, and this means seeing how the character’s circumstances changes from bad to good, or vice-versa.
Hence, the similarly bad life experiences of most Hollywood heroes.
Just how much of an outsider is your protagonist?
There may just be room to make him or her even more on the fringes of society than they already are…
Make sure that in that first act, life really is against them. They’re not just down, they’re down and out!
This is connected with their flaw. It’s their flaw why they’re in this state in the first place.
But by making them come from a point of desperation in Act One, you have more chance to show their growth over the rest of the screenplay and them getting over their flaw.
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Thanks for reading and, as always, keep writing!