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Main Character: Deciding Who Drives

Adapted from Writers Workshop Script Doctor

Copyright 1994, 1997, 1998, Dorian Scott Cole

Discussion

Imagine you are at a city park full of people. You don't have to enjoy yourself if you don't want to, but here, take this cup of cola. Now, follow me through the crowd and whatever happens, don't spill the cola. Just ahead, sitting on the ground rubbing his feet, is the guy who runs the shoe store. We shove him over backwards and he falls to the feet of a lady customer who knows him. She calls him a pervert and holds her dress closely to her legs. A uniformed police officer gazes stonily in our direction. The man sits up and reaches for your arm - the one with the cola - to pull himself up. You back away, stepping right onto the foot of a little child, you clumsy lout! You lunge forward. Watch the cola! Ah, gee, right onto the front of the child's mother - all dressed up in a white satin blouse and black slacks - she grabs your cup and pours the remainder on your head. I told you to watch the cola! The policeman moves purposefully toward you.

This story has conflict, characters, dramatic action, even a little bit of a plot: follow me and don't spill the cola. Who are the important people in the story? Who are the ones the audience can focus on? The policeman who is going to arrest you? The child with the sore foot? His mother with the sore ego? The shoe store guy? They may all have an interesting story to tell, and may be very motivated, but they aren't going anywhere. The only ones who have a purpose are you and me. I'm taking you through the crowd. You're following and having a terrible time not spilling the cola. Who will the audience lock onto? Not the characters, but you or me, and until they know what our purpose is, neither of us. Which means, the audience has no focus and switches from person to person as the story unfolds. After a half hour of this, their brains may switch to another channel. You have to decide for them which character is the one they should focus on by showing that character's purpose.

There can be more than one main character in a story. There can be several whose lives entwine and interest us, each with his own problems - subplots - that relate to the main plot. But there needs to be one, or at the most two, protagonists who are central to the main conflict. They are the ones who the audience hooks onto and who pull them through the story.

There should also be an antagonist - the opposite person who squares off against the protagonist to do battle. The antagonist may be the world or the system, or his own personal demons. Don Quixote fought windmills. The opposition in a story doesn't have to take bodily form, but there has to be something to conquer, even if it is only besting himself.

Solution:

1) Decide which character you feel is most important and write the story around her. She should be the one who drives the story forward and carries the main plot.

2) If your antagonist is not in physical form, make sure you know, and the audience knows, what your protagonist is fighting.

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