The Danger of Ignoring Other Characters

Every story is about the hero, but the hero isn’t the sole focus of any story. In every story, not only should the hero change emotionally, but the hero’s mentor and ally should change as well. This helps create a complete and satisfying story. When you risk focusing solely on the hero, then secondary characters appear two-dimensional and meaningless.

Think of every great movie and you’ll see multiple characters changing. In “Star Wars”, Luke not only changes but Obi-wan gets redemption against Darth Vader while Hans Solo changes to become less selfish.

In “Die Hard,” the hero changes by becoming less arrogant, and the hero’s actions help his mentor (Officer Powell) learn to overcome his fear of shooting a gun again. In addition, the hero’s actions help his limousine driver (an ally) get more confident and assertive by helping take down a terrorist as well.

Now look at movies that focus solely on the hero and ignore the secondary characters. In “Long Shot,” a stubborn journalist falls in love with a woman who is about to become the first female President of the United States. Yet beyond these two characters, none of the other characters change in any way. They exist solely to help the story, which actually weakens the overall story.

Think of a bad movie like “Mortal Engines” and the hero doesn’t appear to change emotionally at all while none of the other characters change either. Not surprisingly, “Mortal Engines” turned out to be a flop.

When coming up with a story, ask yourself why someone might want to see or read your story over and over again. It’s never for plot twists or special effects, but for the emotional feeling they get from your story. That can only come from having as many characters as possible change emotionally.

The more characters change emotionally in a consistent manner, the stronger your story’s overall emotional effect will be. The fewer characters who change emotionally, the less emotionally charged your story will be.

Watch a great movie that you’d be happy to watch again (“Star Wars”, “Casablanca”, “Titanic”, etc.) and you’ll care about the emotional effect the movie has on you. Then watch a bad movie and you’ll likely not care about the emotional effect, which means you probably won’t care about the movie or want to see it ever again.

Emotions are the heart of any story so make sure your screenplay focuses more on emotion and less on mindless action. People want to feel alive and they can only do that by feeling emotionally engaged to as many characters as possible as those characters change as well.

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