Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Screenwriting Mistake #50: No helper character

One character that you will find in nearly every movie is the protagonist’s helper. Where would Luke Skywalker be without Han Solo? Could Harry Potter have stopped Voldemort without Ron Weasley? (Or Neville either, technically, though the movie really didn’t do justice to that element from the books. Besides, that doesn’t support my point here, so I’m really not sure why I brought it up in the first place. Moving on.) What kind of story would “The Shawshank Redemption” have been if Red were not there to help Andy acquire certain items? And I can guarantee that Owen Wilson wouldn’t have crashed nearly as many weddings if Vince Vaughn weren’t there to egg him on. Without a good helper to accompany your protagonist on his quest, he will not be able to live up to his full potential, so make sure to have one in your script.

Here’s a good list of traits for your helper character:

-       Believes in the protagonist, even when the protagonist doesn’t believe in himself.
-       Pushes the protagonist to confront his fear/flaw and to accomplish his external goal.
-       Doesn’t have the same internal flaw as the protagonist, so he can see how good the protagonist’s life would be if he were to overcome that flaw.
-       Provides a sounding board for the protagonist.
-       Spends more time onscreen with the protagonist than any other character does.

Even the movie “Castaway,” which featured Tom Hanks as a man stranded alone on a desert island, needed someone for him to talk to, so they made up the inanimate character of Wilson, his volleyball. Without Wilson, Tom Hanks would have just been ranting to himself, which would not have made him a very sympathetic protagonist. If your script doesn’t have a single character dedicated to the role of helping your protagonist to accomplish his goal, then add one and see how much your story improves.

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