Ever watch a movie and not really care about what happens to the characters? That’s a hallmark of a bad movie. Therefore if you want to write a good movie, you need to make us care about your hero.
The movie “Tron Legacy” is visually stunning, but emotionally cold and distant. The reason for this is because we don’t really know who the hero is.
Imagine watching someone walk out into the street and get hit by a car. That’s tragic, but beyond the shock value of seeing someone get hit, there’s no emotion in seeing a stranger get hit by a car other than the horror of the event itself.
Now imagine if you got to know this guy first. Over a cup of coffee, he tells you that he’s working three jobs just so he can pay his bills and keep his young daughter safe and living in a nice home because if he’s not around to provide for her, she has no other relatives in the entire world who will take care of her. Therefore this guy has no problem working so hard because he loves and cares for his daughter.
Suddenly if this guy gets hit by a car, you’re going to care. First because you know what this guy wanted and that was to keep his daughter safe. Second, you know the consequences because if this guy’s not around, nobody else will care for his daughter. Now when you see this guy get hit by a car, you have more of an emotional stake in the results because you know what horrible thing could happen to his dreams and his daughter.
In “Tron Legacy,” do we really know what the hero wants? Not really. He misses his dad, but why? If he never gets to meet his dad, what horrible consequence will happen? Not much. As a result, the hero in “Tron Legacy” is kind of dull so the movie is kind of dull.
Now think of “The Shawshank Redemption.” We eventually learn that our hero is not only trapped in prison forever, but he’s innocent as well. Now our sense of injustice makes us want the hero to win so when he does, we feel emotionally connected in much the same way people get emotionally connected to their favorite sports teams. In short, they care and they have a reason to care.
In your own screenplay, give us a reason to care for your hero. First, we have to know what your hero wants. Second, we have to know the consequences if your hero doesn’t get what he or she wants. Third, we have to understand that the consequences are terrible. Fourth, it helps if our hero is innocent.
Bruce Willis is innocent in “Die Hard,” so we root for him because he’s struggling to survive. WALL-E in innocent in “WALL-E,” so we root for him as well.
Make your hero likable with a goal that if he or she doesn’t achieve it, some horrible consequence will occur that we don’t want to see happen. That will connect your hero emotionally to your audience and that will make your screenplay more interesting than a dull spectacle of visual effects like “Tron Legacy.”