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How to Develop a Main Character

How to Develop a Main Character for a Screenplay

5 Steps to Creating a Main Character

Developing the Hero

The hero of your story is that character whose motivation drives to plot forward, and his or her drive to succeed in their quest is what makes you (the audience) completely vested in their success. The entire story should evolve around main character (who might not be a hero at first, but the success or even failure of their journey can and should make them the "hero").

In creating the hero, you must first determine those qualities the character should possess that is in line with the plot of the story. It doesn't make sense to have a character who is a basketball player save the world by creating a time machine and going back in time, but it does for a scientist.

So, you must ask yourself, what are the limitations that are placed on this character by the plot? Should the character be a certain age, gender, possess a special ability, or have a quirk in their personality that assists them on their special journey?

Audience Identification is Key!

As your character begins to come alive on the page (and on the screen!), you must then begin to focus on one of the most important functions of your hero: audience identification. This means that the audience (or the reader) must experience emotion through that character. If the character succeeds in a task, the audience cheers - if they fail, the audience is disturbed and/or disappointed. This is the most important aspect of your character: the audience or the reader MUST identify with the hero of your screenplay or story.

Below you will find the 5 main principles you can apply to your hero to achieve this result.

1. Create Sympathy for the Character.

In Iron Man, Tony Stark is captured by terrorists in the opening scene and is held prisoner. Not only is he forced to create a missile using his own technology for the enemy, but the explosion rendered his survival based on a car battery being hooked up to his chest. Immediately, we feel sympathy for him, and want him to kick some bad guy ass.

Tony Stark Wounded Iron Man

Tony Stark: Create Sympathy for Main Character


If you can get the audience to feel sorry for the main character by making him or her the victim of some undeserved misfortune, then you will establish a high degree of emotion, and the audience will want the main character to overcome that obstacle.

2. Put the Main Character in Jeopardy.

Obviously, we can continue here with the Tony Stark example, but let's use another classic movie to demonstrate this. In Die Hard, John McClane is trapped in a high rise building and his ex-wife and dozens of innocent people are in imminent danger. He has no shoes, no gun, and has to take out machine-gun wielding terrorists.

John Mclane No Shoes in Die Hard

John McClane: Die Hard


When the audience becomes worried about your character because of a dangerous or threatening situation, you are creating audience identification on a grand scale.

3. Make the Main Character Likeable.

This is obviously a no-brainer, but you would be surprised to see how many writers (professional ones who had their screenplays made) miss the boat on this one. How many times have you watched a movie and said to yourself: "I didn't really like the main character." To assure this doesn't happen to your main character, make sure that you follow at least one of these:


• Make the character a good or nice person.
• Make the character funny.
• Make the character exceptional at what he or she does.

Remember, you can make a hero out of ANY CHARACTER. There have been many villainous characters that have been made "hero's". Think of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, or Michael Douglas's character in Fatal Attraction. One was a slimy mob boss and the other an adulterer who cheated on his perfect, beautiful wife. The hook is that you make the real evil character, a lot more evil.

Michael Corleone The Godfather

Michael Corleone: The Godfather


4. Introduce the Main Character as Soon as Possible.

Immediately after the lights dim and the credits role, the audience is looking for someone to root for. Don't make them wait too long! In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is introduced within the first 15 minutes of the film. The audience knows immediately that he will be the hero that will eventually defeat Darth Vader and the Empire. It's not the knowing that is a surprise, but the journey that the audience wants to experience.

5. Give the Main Character Flaws.

This is a necessary characteristic for a comedy. Steve Carrell's character, Andy Stitzer, in The 40-Year Old Virgin obviously has social issues that prevent him from achieving his sole goal for the story: to lose his virginity. The audience will connect strongly to a character if their flaw is something that they can relate to.

40-Year Old Virgin

Steve Carrell: 40-Year Old Virgin


How to Develop Other Characters for Your Screenplay

The Three Act Structure For Your Screenplay

Check out our iOS app for developing an outline for your story, StoryO for iOS click here for more information or here for the desktop version.


StoryO for iOS

StoryO for iOS: Available on the App Store



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