Guiding the Story: Significance of the Protagonist in Screenwriting

Crafting a Memorable Protagonist in Screenwriting: A Guide to Compelling Characters

Guiding the Story: Significance of the Protagonist in Screenwriting

Every great story has a protagonist, and screenwriting is no exception. A protagonist is the lead character in a screenplay who drives the narrative forward and takes actions to achieve their goals.

They are often the character through whose eyes the audience experiences the story. A well-crafted protagonist can make or break a screenplay, as they are essential to engaging an audience with the plot and characters.

The Definition of Protagonist in Screenwriting

A protagonist is defined as the main character of a story, play, or movie around whom the plot revolves. In screenwriting, the protagonist typically has an objective or goal that they are trying to achieve over the course of the screenplay.

The audience follows their journey as they face obstacles and challenges while striving towards their ultimate target. The protagonist is responsible for carrying much of the emotional weight of a screenplay.

Their successes and failures drive both plot progression and emotional investment from audiences. They are often seen as representing certain themes or values within a story that may resonate with viewers on an individual level.

The Importance of Having a Strong Protagonist in a Screenplay

A strong protagonist is crucial for any successful screenplay because it helps engage audiences emotionally, making them care about what happens to your characters throughout your script’s duration. If your audience doesn’t care about your lead character’s journey, then they won’t care about anything else that happens along the way. In addition to engaging an audience emotionally, having a strong protagonist also helps create compelling drama within your screenplay.

This drama comes from watching them navigate through difficult situations while pursuing their objectives despite obstacles and challenges thrown at them at every turn. Having a strong protagonist can help you distinguish your script from others.

If you can create a unique and memorable lead character, it can make your screenplay stand out in a sea of other scripts vying for attention. A strong protagonist is essential to creating an unforgettable story that will remain in the minds of audiences long after the credits have rolled.

Characteristics of a Protagonist

The protagonist is the central character in a story, and they drive the plot forward. A strong protagonist can make or break a screenplay.

They need to be relatable, likable, flawed and have clear goals. Moreover, they must grow and change throughout the story to keep the audience engaged.

Relatable and likable traits

The audience needs to root for the protagonist in order for them to become invested in their journey. To achieve this, it’s important that the protagonist possesses relatable and likable traits that people can identify with.

For example, they may have a great sense of humor or share common values with the audience. The key is to make them relatable enough so that people will care about what happens to them.

Clear goals and motivation

A strong protagonist must have clear goals that are integral to the plot of the story. The audience should understand why these goals are important to them so that they can become invested in their success or failure. Furthermore, it must be evident what motivates them – whether it be power, love or revenge – so that we understand why they’re willing to take such risks.

Flaws and weaknesses that create conflict

No one is perfect – including protagonists – which makes flaws an essential element when creating a character who feels real. These flaws could be anything from an addiction or fear of commitment to issues with anger management or impulse control – whatever fits within your story world but also affects your protagonist’s ability to succeed on their journey.

These weaknesses not only make your character more interesting but they also create conflict within your story as you pit their strengths against their flaws; setting up situations where we get an opportunity glimpse into how our protagonist will handle adversity.

Growth and change throughout the story

Your protagonist should not remain static throughout the story. In order to keep the audience engaged, they need to grow and change as the story progresses. This doesn’t mean that their goals or motivations necessarily change – in fact, it’s often more compelling if their goals remain intact – but rather that they learn new things about themselves and what it takes to achieve their objectives.

This growth can come from a variety of sources, such as relationships with other characters, conflicts they encounter along the way or even self-reflection. Whatever the source may be, it’s crucial that your protagonist evolves over time so that we get a sense of progress in their journey.

Types of Protagonists

When it comes to writing a screenplay, the protagonist is the character who drives the story forward. However, not all protagonists are created equal.

Different types of protagonists can affect the tone and theme of a story. Here are four types of protagonists:

Traditional hero/heroine

The traditional hero or heroine is someone who represents ideal qualities such as bravery, honesty and righteousness. They often have superhuman abilities and are willing to put themselves in danger for the greater good.

These characters have clear goals and motivations and usually succeed in their endeavors. Examples include Superman in “Man of Steel” or Wonder Woman in “Wonder Woman.” They both possess heroic traits like courage, determination and compassion.


The anti-hero or anti-heroine has qualities that go against traditional heroism but still find themselves as the protagonist of their stories. They may be morally ambiguous, lacking empathy or engage in illegal activities for personal gain.

Often they find themselves forced into situations where they must do something heroic despite their negative past. An example of an anti-hero is Walter White from “Breaking Bad”, whose motivations start from providing for his family but ends up being driven by his thirst for power leading him to become a ruthless drug lord that many people love to hate.


The everyman/everywoman is a character that represents an average person with relatable qualities such as kindness, courage or resourcefulness. They may not possess any special skills like superheroes but through their hard work, achieve greatness by overcoming challenges with heart.

A great example is Erin Brockovich played by Julia Roberts from “Erin Brockovich”. She takes on an energy corporation after her investigation leads her to discover evidence about water contamination at their facility.


The outcast/misfit is a character who doesn’t fit into societal norms and may face discrimination or ridicule. They usually have unique qualities that set them apart from the crowd. Their struggles and challenges are often the main theme of the story.

A fantastic example is Daniel LaRusso played by Ralph Macchio from “The Karate Kid”. He faces bullying and intimidation in a new city, which forces him to learn karate in order to defend himself against his attackers.

Creating a Memorable Protagonist

As a screenwriter, creating a memorable protagonist is crucial to the success of your screenplay. The protagonist should be relatable, have clear goals and motivations, and undergo growth and change throughout the story. To achieve this, it’s important to give your protagonist depth and complexity by exploring their backstory, unique personality quirks or traits, dialogue that reveals character, and relationships with other characters.

Backstory and Character History

A well-developed backstory can add depth and complexity to your protagonist. It explains how they became the person they are today. It can also help you develop their character arc as they deal with events from their past that affect them in the present story.

For example, in “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone starts out as an outsider who wants nothing to do with his family’s criminal empire. However, as the story progresses, we learn about his WWII experience in which he was deeply hurt by his country of origin (Italy) towards him despite being American born; this becomes a pivotal point for his character development as he becomes more involved in the family business.

Unique Personality Quirks or Traits

Giving your protagonist unique personality quirks or traits can make them stand out from other characters while also making them more relatable. These quirks or traits can be something small like frequently chewing gum or something more significant like having an intense fear of abandonment due to childhood trauma.

For instance, in “The Big Lebowski,” Jeff Lebowski is known for wearing jelly sandals and drinking White Russians constantly. These quirks not only add humor but also give us insight into his laid-back personality.

Dialogue that Reveals Character

Dialogue is another way to reveal character. What your protagonist says (or doesn’t say) can tell us a lot about them. It’s important to give your protagonist a unique voice that aligns with their personality, backstory, and traits.

In the movie “Juno,” Juno MacGuff’s wit and humor are revealed through her dialogue. Her use of sarcasm gives us insight into her defensive mechanism against emotions.

Relationships with Other Characters

It is important to consider the relationships your protagonist has with other characters in the story. These relationships can reveal a lot about your protagonist’s personality, backstory, motivations, and growth throughout the story.

For example, in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Holly Golightly is initially portrayed as an aloof socialite who doesn’t seem to care about anyone but herself. However, as her relationship with Paul Varjak develops throughout the movie, we see that she is actually afraid of being hurt by anyone because of past experiences.

Overall, creating a memorable protagonist requires attention to detail and careful consideration of their backstory, personality quirks or traits,mannerisms dialogue and relationships with other characters. A well-developed protagonist can elevate your screenplay from good to great while also making it more relatable for audiences

Supporting Characters and their Impact on the Protagonist

When crafting a screenplay, it’s important to consider the supporting characters who interact with the protagonist. These characters can have a significant impact on the protagonist’s journey and help shape their overall character arc.

Allies are characters who assist or support the protagonist in achieving their goal. These characters can range from sidekicks to mentors to friends.

Allies provide not only physical assistance but emotional support as well. They can offer advice, encouragement, and even challenge the protagonist when necessary.

On the other hand, antagonists create conflict for the protagonist. Antagonists don’t necessarily have to be “villains,” but they should present obstacles for the protagonist to overcome.

These challenges can come in many forms, such as physical threats or conflicting ideals. Antagonists push the protagonist out of their comfort zone, forcing them to evolve and grow throughout the story.

Allies Who Help The Protagonist Achieve Their Goal

Allies are essential to any good screenplay because they allow for character development through relationships with others that help them achieve their goals. A great example of an ally is Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Sam’s unwavering loyalty and support towards Frodo helps him complete his mission despite several setbacks along the way.

In other films like Rocky Balboa’s trainer Mickey Goldmill in Rocky (1976), Hermione Granger in Harry Potter (2001), Walter Sobchak in Big Lebowski (1998), we find some more examples of strong allies who guide or help our protagonists through adversity. It is also important that allies themselves experience growth throughout a story as well – perhaps they too learn something about themselves along this journey of helping their friend reach his/her goal.

Antagonists Who Create Conflict For The Protagonist

An antagonist is the character who stands in the way of the protagonist achieving their goal. Antagonists can be anything from a villain to a competing love interest or even a natural disaster. They serve as both an obstacle and an opportunity for the protagonist to grow.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Darth Vader is a prime example of an antagonist. Not only does he present physical threats to Luke Skywalker, but he also challenges Luke’s beliefs and values.

This conflict forces Luke to reevaluate his priorities and ultimately leads to his growth as a character. Love interests or family members can also serve as antagonists if they create conflict for the protagonist.

In Romeo and Juliet (1968) for instance, Juliet’s family serves as an antagonist by forbidding her from seeing Romeo, leading to tragic consequences. Overall, it’s important for the antagonist’s motivations and actions to be well-defined in the screenplay so that their actions make sense and create meaningful conflict that drives the story forward.

Examples of Memorable Protagonists in Film and Television

Classic Protagonists

When it comes to memorable protagonists in film and television, there are a few that stand out as classics. First, there is Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars franchise.

Luke is a classic hero who starts as a naive farm boy and becomes a powerful Jedi Knight fighting against the evil empire. He embodies the qualities of courage, determination, and selflessness that make him easy to root for.

Another classic protagonist is Indiana Jones from the Indiana Jones movies. Indy is an adventurous archaeologist who goes on daring quests to find ancient artifacts while battling Nazis or other villains along the way.

He’s tough, smart, resourceful, and has a sharp wit that makes him endearing to audiences. Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs completes this trio of classic protagonists.

Clarice is an FBI agent who must confront her fears and personal demons while investigating a series of murders perpetrated by a ruthless serial killer. Her intelligence, bravery, and vulnerability make her one of the most compelling female protagonists in cinema history.

Modern Protagonists

In modern times, there have been many memorable protagonists that have captured audiences’ imaginations. One such example is Walter White from Breaking Bad. Walter starts as a meek high school chemistry teacher but transforms into a ruthless drug lord after being diagnosed with cancer.

His moral decay makes for fascinating character development throughout the series. Another modern protagonist is Tony Soprano from The Sopranos.

He’s an Italian-American mafia boss struggling with his family life while running his criminal empire in New Jersey. Tony’s complicated relationships with his wife, children, therapist and fellow gangsters give depth to his character.

We have Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones who transforms from being sold into marriage to becoming the Mother of Dragons and eventually the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Her determination, compassion, and occasional ruthlessness make her a complex and interesting protagonist.

You might find Crafting Compelling Character Arcs in Screenwriting and Screenwriting: The Art of Foreshadowing for Suspenseful Stories very helpful as they will help you get better understanding of what is really involve in screenwriting.


Having a strong protagonist is crucial to any successful screenplay or television series. A memorable protagonist should be relatable, have clear goals, interesting flaws, and undergo growth throughout the story. Classic protagonists like Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones and Clarice Starling are examples of enduring characters that resonate with audiences even after decades have passed since their initial release.

Modern protagonists like Walter White, Tony Soprano and Daenerys Targaryen show that memorable protagonists can come in all shapes and sizes. Whether classic or modern, a well-written protagonist can make or break a story’s success.