How To Make The ProtagonistWhen it comes to effective story writing, there must always be a conflict in the plot. That’s a dead given.  No conflict? No purpose.

As soon as the conflict is resolved, the story is practically over. As an example, imagine a fairy tale where the hero must save the princess. Once the princess is rescued, the audience has nothing more to look forward to.  Conflict is what drives a good story.  That is how plots function, and it will remain that way for all time.

In the world of film-making, the most popular source of conflict comes from the antagonist.  Since films are mostly visual, seeing the source of conflict helps the audience connect with the story.  Having a tangible, obvious antagonist is an easy way to create a sense of plot.  In “Friday the 13th”, Jason is clearly the antagonist.

In “Armageddon”, the falling asteroid functions as the main source of antagonism.  In “The Lord of the Rings”, Sauron is portrayed as the main antagonist throughout the trilogy.  The majority of films work this way.

Some films are based on best-selling novels, but end up as mediocre films.  How and why does this happen? Most novels develop characters in such a way that most films have a hard time accomplishing.  It’s much easier to just slap a bad guy on the screen than to help the audience connect with the protagonist, but what if the protagonist is, in fact, the antagonist?

How does a film go about doing that? It’s more difficult than the tradition Hollywood method, and requires a certain weight of creativity.

“The Master”

Antagonist One And The Same

The 2012 film, “The Master” (starring Joaquin Phoenix), is a perfect example of this kind of character-driven story telling.  It tells the story of Freddie Quell (Phoenix), a World War II veteran who is a rampant alcoholic and constantly finds himself in trouble with authority and commits random acts of violence.

He is clearly a self-destructive character, and the audience is shown this.  The audience is more aware of his own personal problem more-so than the actual character is, which makes the conflict more believable and enthralling.

The story isn’t shown through the eyes of Freddie, but rather revolves around him.  The audience bears witness to him through the third person perspective, yet, the character himself drives the story.  This is called externalizing.  To successfully externalize a character, there are nine important steps that should be taken:

  1. Make the main character’s problem apparent. (Freddie is a self-destructive alcoholic with common temper outbreaks.)
  2. Identify the type of character that embodies that problem.
  3. Distinguish the kind of scenario that brings about said problem.
  4. Create an array of situations/characters that influence the protagonist to cause a conflict.
  5. Emphasize these elements to their absolute core.  The character must truly be affected by them to honestly express his flaws.
  6. Add validity to the problem by creating multiple/different scenarios that bring out the same character flaws.
  7. As soon the problem is properly manifested within your character, make it clear to the audience what it is he does to spark it.
  8. Show how the protagonist goes about solving his conflict.
  9. Finalize the resolution in a fluent way that makes sense.

What makes accomplishing all of this difficult is making the resolution truly believable.  Did the protagonist overcome his flaws? Is he no longer the antagonist?  Not in all cases.  You can still leave him a flawed character while still satisfying your audience.

By the end of the film, “The Master”, Freddie is still the flawed fool that he was originally portrayed.  The message of film was more directed at the relationship between him and the man who took him under his wing.

At the end of the film, they part ways, and that in itself is the resolution.  Creating such an effect takes a set amount of creativity.