Make the Audience the Hero

Why do you like watching old movies that you’ve already seen and know the plot by heart? It’s not to see special effects or watch A-list actors and directors work. It’s because you love the story and want to experience it emotionally all over again.

Nobody watches a lousy movie over and over again, but people will gladly watch “Star Wars,” “Titanic,” “Die Hard,” “The Wizard of Oz,” or “Casablanca” multiple times. That’s because great movies don’t just tell good stories, but they also make it easy for the audience to feel as if they’re going through the same emotional struggle as the hero.

Watch any of your favorite movies and you’ll get to experience the same sense of emotion as the hero because essentially you are the hero. The best way to entice an audience to relate to the hero is to make the hero pursue a goal that everyone can relate to.

The easiest genre to do this is romance. Everyone wants to find love so watching the struggles of someone searching for the right person is compelling by itself, especially when the story is told in an interesting manner such as “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Legally Blonde.” Since we all want love, we also want to see someone else struggle and find love because we all want to find love too.

When writing a romance story whether a serious drama or a romantic comedy, the key is the struggle. The more relatable the struggle, the more immersive the struggle will be for the audience.

“Crazy Rich Asians” is little different from “Romeo and Juliet” in that the biggest struggle comes from outside people (relatives) who work to keep two lovers apart because of society class differences.

Other romance stories focus on the struggle between pursuing the wrong person and finding the right one. “Legally Blonde” is about chasing after the wrong guy while “Sleepless in Seattle” is about being tempted to go after the wrong woman.

Beyond romance, action stories are easy to audiences to understand because it either involves protecting a loved one (“Die Hard”), getting revenge after being wronged by the villain (“Kill Bill”), or learning to become a better person (“Star Wars”).

Essentially, every genre has its own appeal to the audience:

  • Horror — Learning to do what’s right (people who break the rules of society tend to get killed by the villain such as in “Halloween” or “It Follows”)
  • Comedy — Learning to use your ugly duckling talent to be accepted by society (“School of Rock” or “Legally Blonde”)
  • Drama — Learning to understand some aspect of life (such as understanding racism in “Green Book” or “BlackKlansman”)
  • Romance — Learning to overcome barriers to finding true love (“When Harry Met Sally” or “The Proposal”)
  • Action — Solving problems through fighting (“Terminator 2” or “Aliens”)
  • Mystery — Solving problems through intellect (“Murder on the Orient Express” or “The Usual Suspects”)

When creating your own screenplay, focus on how your story can appeal to the audience. In other words, how easily can they immerse themselves and identify with the hero?

If the hero is pursuing a goal that the audience also wants to pursue (finding love), then they’ll find it easy to identify with your hero. Now all you have to do is tell an interesting story that lets the audience experience the emotional rush that they crave.

Think of writing a screenplay like designing a roller coaster. Roller coaster designers focus on giving riders thrills and scares in different ways whether by dropping them down steep hills, flipping them upside-down, or rushing them in sharp turns at high speeds.

In a screenplay, every scene must match your overall story’s genre. When audiences can identify with every obstacle introduced in every scene, they’ll have little trouble identifying with your hero and your entire story, and that’s part of the secret of writing a great screenplay.

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