In this tip for writing scripts, we’re gonna get a little personal. (Which is where the BEST scripts live.) We’re going to talk about how to find the best/worst hero for your upcoming screenplay.
About 15 years ago I optioned a screenplay I had written. And I was 97.3% certain this coure of writing a movie about a quirky, 20-something girl trying to make sense of the world was gonna make me wealthy, famous, and the object of some Ukranian supermodel’s affection.
And this script was a GUARANTEED winner.“Optioning” a script, for those in need of a refresher, is where strangers give you a little bit of money to see if other, more powerful strangers will give you a lot more money.
- It had a great romantic comedy concept. (Easiest genre to sell.)
- It had a series of visual, comedic setpieces that would make for one very funny trailer.
- It had a boffo opening scene that would have been talked about for generations to come.
And I was went around “town” pitching this story I was certain would provide for me and future Rogan generations my confidence was sky high.
Until a wizened old producer met me for lunch and explained to me that my script had a SLIGHT FLAW. “Your main character sucks.”
What? But that can’t be. I had to explain to him that the main character was quirky and had a weird backstory and she wore offbeat Annie Hall-inspired clothes and she’d be the perfect vehicle for an up-and-coming actress.
The producer just shook his head and said something I’ll never forget: “Good stories aren’t about the stuff that happens. It’s about finding a hero who has the FARTHEST TO GO to learn the lesson.”
Oh… See, what he meant by my “character sucks” was that my heroine went from moderately depressed to cautiously happy. She was quirky, yes, but she was also passive, timid, and reactive.
She didn’t walk into a scene demanding the world adjust to her. She was flexible. (To a fault.)
And while writing a movie with reserved, slightly passive characters can make for great leads – Tender Mercies and Remains of the Day are a couple of films that come to mind – it is a subtle art best left to the masters. (Not somebody cranking out their third screenplay.)
Worst of all, it was a fatal flaw.
Something I couldn’t simply change in the rewrite. Like betting on the wrong horse, once you’ve staked things to the WRONG CHARACTER you are pretty much screwed.
The error was so glaring because the character who had the FARTHEST TO GO in my screenplay was the MOTHER CHARACTER.
I had given all the energy, power, obsession to the WRONG CHARACTER. (And had my lead react off of this in funny, sarcastic ways.)
So…today’s QUICK TIP for writing scripts is a simple, but profound one that can really change the trajectory of your script. Simply look at your story, hopefully before you type FADE OUT and ask yourself WHO HAS THE FARTHEST TO GO to learn the lesson.
If you find it’s ANOTHER CHARACTER in your story, then ask yourself what would the script look like from their point of view. Maybe you’re shying away from the character who can really open things up for you.
As J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) said: The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another.”
Sometimes the story writes us. Not the other way around. (And hopefully you realize that before you sit in a producer’s waiting room.)
Have you had a challenge when writing scripts in finding the RIGHT hero or heroine for your screenplay? (Let us know in the comments be-low!)