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Script Protagonist Introductions: How To Grab The Reader

No.1 Hack On How To Introduce Your Script's Protagonist

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by Script Reader Pro in How To Write A Screenplay
July 10, 2015 0 comments

Your script protagonist is the most important character in the screenplay. However, there’s one key mistake aspiring screenwriters make over and over again when it comes to introducing them.

So, in this post we’re going to show you how to get a reader to immediately connect with your script protagonist, get behind them and start your script off the right way. How do you do this?

Show Us Your Script Protagonist’s Flaw 

What’s your script protagonist doing the first time we meet them? Sitting somewhere, hanging out? Chatting to someone? Getting dressed in the morning? The problem is, when introducing a script protagonist to the reader, often the writer fails to fully communicate who they really are and what their flaw is.

If your script’s protagonist is an alcoholic, but the first time we meet them they’re at work functioning completely normally, then you’re not showing the reader what their flaw is or what they need to overcome in life. The very first thing we should see the script protagonist doing is what flaw is holding them back as a person in this moment in time. 

Audiences want to see what the hero’s all about straight away. They want to be shown the heart of their character right out the gates. This is what we like to call a character’s essence, and is often essentially the character’s flaw as well (especially in Comedy and Drama.)

When showing us your script protagonist for the very first time, think about what kind of character they really are. Why are they flawed? What’s brought them to this place in their life?

Once you’re clear on this, make sure your screenplay protagonist is acting in a way that demonstrates this, the very first time we’re introduced to them.

Let’s take a look at some examples of script protagonists from a few famous movies in order to explain this a little better. We’ve chosen one from each major genre: Drama, Comedy, Action/Adventure, Thriller and Horror.

Script Protagonist Intro Examples

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DRAMA SCRIPT PROTAGONIST:
THE TRUMAN SHOW

A novice writer might first introduce the script hero to this classic movie with Truman at work or talking to his wife. However, the first image in The Truman Show, is of Truman Burbank peering into a hidden camera in his own apartment, reassuring himself he can make it.

This is who Truman is at the beginning of the film—completely hoodwinked about the circumstances of his own life—and this is his flaw. He can’t see it, and so the writers show this in his introductory scene in as clear a way as possible: by making him peer directly at us into a hidden camera.

COMEDY SCRIPT PROTAGONIST: SWINGERS

What’s the essence of Mike’s character when we first meet him in Swingers? What’s his flaw? He’s depressed about splitting up with his ex and can’t understand why she hasn’t called.

So, what does Jon Favreau have Mike doing when we first meet him? No, not happily playing golf, or shopping, or playing video games. He’s sitting across from a friend in a diner, miserable and talking about his ex. From this opening scene we immediately get what this guy’s problem is and he goes on to talk incessantly about his ex and lets her screw things up throughout the movie.

ACTION SCRIPT PROTAGONIST: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

How is Indiana Jones introduced in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Less skilled writers maybe would’ve chosen to introduce him at home talking to someone on the phone about the Ark. Or on a routine dig somewhere in a desert.

Sure, he’s actively doing what defines him to a certain extent in these examples, but what shows us the character essence of what Indy’s really all about? Yep, being chased by boulders, dodging poisoned darts and leaping chasms clutching a precious golden artefact. And this is kind of his flaw too. He’s selfish, driven and takes too many risks, all of which are perfectly summed up in his script protagonist introduction,

The same goes for the main character in any action film. Look again at the beginning of Lethal Weapon. Or Die Hard. Or any James Bond film. Often, the action at the beginning of these films is completely unrelated to the eventual plot, but it’s there in order to show us straight away who the hero is.

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THRILLER SCRIPT PROTAGONIST: NIGHTCRAWLER

A less skilled writer than Dan Gilroy maybe would introduce us to Lou doing something like asking a friend to borrow some money. Yes, in a way this shows he’s desperate, but what really gets across who he is? Stealing from a scrap yard, beating up a security guard and stealing his watch just about does it.

This is a deeply unsettling introduction to Lou as a character that doesn’t hold back in showing us his flaw and the true essence of his character. And of course this opening scene takes place at night. If you were to open Nightcrawler with a day scene, straightaway you’re letting the reader know you haven’t quite figured out who this guy is yet.

HORROR SCRIPT PROTAGONIST: THE RING

The screenplay protagonist in Horror movies is often less fully rounded than in other genres—they’re just innocent people living their lives. Think of the protagonist(s) in movies like Paranormal Activity, Wolf Creek, or The Ruins. They’re not fully fleshed out characters with obvious flaws—they’re more like representations of a larger “sin” committed by humanity.

Even in Horrors with a more straightforward script protagonist like Rachel in The Ring, they’re still very much innocent people caught up in evil through no real flaw or fault of their own. When we first meet Rachel, she arrives to pick up her strange kid from school and dismisses his weird drawings as him “just expressing himself.”

This is the key when introducing a Horror script protagonist: they don’t know the horror that’s about to befall them and so just act as you or I would. A truly flawed script hero in other genres, however, tends to act a certain way because of a flaw we may or may not share.

Strong Protagonist = Strong Opening

screenplay structure
Showing a “heightened” version of your script protagonist the first time we encounter them has a few other functions. By introducing the main character in a more powerful way, it follows that your film will open in a more powerful way too. Hence, genre and tone become clearer.

Take another look at the opening of The 40 Year Old Virgin. The things Andy is doing are the most mundane imaginable, and yet they sum up perfectly who he is at this point in his life. And through his actions here we know straight away the genre and tone of the film we’re about to see. Without words or music it would still be conveyed just through Andy’s actions.

Opening with a strong sense of who the screenplay hero is, therefore, also serves as a hook to get the viewer interested in the film straight away. And often, this is seeing the script protagonist doing what they do best—whether it’s saving a plane from going down, attacking someone, or waking up alone to the same fussy routine.

Now Take A Look At Your Script Protagonist’s Introduction

What’s your screenplay hero doing the very first time we meet them? Go back and see what they’re doing the very first time we see them. What’s the opening image we’re presented with? Are they actively doing something that displays their flaw and core essence as it stands at the beginning of the film?

If they’re doing something unrelated from who they are at the core—something that doesn’t sum up exactly where they are in their life at this moment in time—there’s a good chance those script readers, agents and managers will have a hard time fully connecting with your script protagonist as the story unfolds.

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