Now that we’re heading back into competition season for 2010, I am going to revisit the most important aspects of the screenplay, and in some cases I will try to link to examples of how they’re done correctly.
I just read a pile of scripts and only one of the writers bothered to introduce me to his protagonist. Name, age, job and clothes are just not enough.
It’s your job to take my hand, lead me into your imagination and say, “Monica, meet my protagonist.” And, “Protagonist, meet Monica, your reader.” If you miss either of these steps, it’s likely you may have already lost me from page 1.
As a reader, you need to remember that I am not familiar with the story that’s in your head. You need to literally introduce me to your script world. You actually need to lure me in. You need to woo me. Inasmuch, it is of paramount importance how you introduce every character in your screenplay – but most of all the protagonist.
This isn’t critical for any generic character – WAITRESS, VALET – but for ANY character with whom I am going to be spending any amount of time, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour, please introduce them in a way where I will know immediately, ‘Okay, this is a character I’m going to be spending time with, so let me figure them out and see who they are.’
It is critical that your script open in your character’s everyday normal world and that you choose an anecdote, or event, from that character’s life that SUMS UP the spirit of who that person is. I DO NOT CARE if your guy BOB is wearing khakis. I couldn’t give a shit. Bob is a management consultant? Not enough info.
I DO want to know something about the essence of Bob as a character that will inform the journey of the screenplay. Bob is a management consultant who moonlights as a custodial artist by night at an elementary school? Now, that’s getting me somewhere.
If the job is important to the character and story, then introduce me to that character working in that job. Don’t just write, “management consultant.” Put me in the office within the first few pages.
If you’re writing an action thriller and when I meet SAM, he goes to great – almost immoral – lengths to beat an opponent, this tells me a lot about who this character is.
If we meet SABRINA in a Romantic Comedy and she is a therapist counseling other women on their love woes but she herself is totally inept with men, that tells me who she is.
Think of an anecdote about your character that will clearly and concisely DEFINE for me who your protagonist is and share that with me in a fun, interesting, smart opening. Then, as the reader, I will have a clear snapshot of not only who this character is, I will have an understanding of where the character arc is likely to go, what genre we’re in, what the story world is likely to unfold.
This is the BEST way to pull me into your script from Page 1. Get me interested and involved in your protagonist. If I love him or her from page one, I will be likely to keep reading, and be interested, well into the script – even if the plotting isn’t stellar.