Ciao, SEers. Last time, we talked about Jill Chamberlain’s Nutshell process for writing screenplays or fiction. Today, we’re going to go into detail about the first of her touchstones—the protagonist.
You probably think that’s rather obvious, but consider buddy stories like Thelma and Louise, Harold and Kumar, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Maybe you think you have two protagonists. To elevate your story from a situation to a story, you need to choose one. (Or you need to define these points for both protagonists then merge them into one story.) Maybe you think the character whose name is first is the protagonist. But depending on which film you look at in the franchise, the protagonist might change. Harold was the protagonist in one of the films; Kumar was in another.
So, yes, you really do need to decide who your protagonist is, and it may not be the person you initially thought it would be.
Many people would say the protagonist is the person driving the action. And ultimately, that’s true. But you might be thinking about writing from a certain point of view when you should be writing from another. Remember, we’re talking about an Aristotelian story. So, before we can determine who we want the protagonist to be, we have to look at our options and determine their strengths and flaws.
This is going to be the key to setting up a story rather than a situation.
Elements of a Flaw
- In the interest of keeping your message clear and your story on track, stick to one flaw. Make it simple to articulate and easy to recognize.
- Make sure it’s something the protagonist can control or eventually master.
- Readers need to learn of this flaw early in the work, preferably in the first act.
Elements of a Strength
- Like the flaw, there should only be one strength focused on. It should also be simple and clear.
- The resolution of the story won’t happen until the protagonist accepts or rejects the strength, so it won’t be revealed until the last act.
Now, here’s the key to elevating your work from situation to story.
Your flaw has to be the direct opposite of your strength.
In an Aristotelian comedy, the protagonist will be the character who overcomes his or her flaw at the end by developing a new strength, one diametrically opposed to the flaw.
In an Aristotelian tragedy, the protagonist will be the character who fails to overcome his or her flaw at the end because he or she ignores a potential strength, one that’s the opposite of the flaw.
In real life, we all have many strengths and many flaws. And fiction should be realistic, in that our characters are all well-rounded, regardless of their roles in the story. But what needs to drive the plot is your protagonist’s key flaw and strength.
Here’s an important point to keep in mind:
The key flaw and strength are not necessarily the main flaw and strength. To turn our situation into a story, the flaw in question needs to be tested by the catch. And the catch is what we’ll discuss next time.
Have you ever considered flaws and strengths in your characters? Are you considering doing so now? Let’s talk about it.