The Four Main Characters

Every good movie should have multiple characters. First, there’s the hero. If you don’t have a hero, you don’t have a story. Second, you need a villain because the villain defines the hero. Third, you need an ally for the hero and fourth, you need a mentor to the hero.

The most important character in your story is the villain. The villain doesn’t necessarily get the most screen time or the most lines, but the villain defines what the story is about.

For example, Rocky in “Rocky” wants to prove that he’s not a bum and a loser. He could achieve his goal in numerous ways. He could go to college and graduate with a degree in accounting to prove he’s smart. That would help Rocky feel like he’s not a bum, but it’s not a very interesting story. What shapes Rocky’s goals is the villain, Apollo Creed, who is the heavyweight champion of the world. To defeat this villain, Rocky has to fight him in the ring.

Apollo Creed defines the final battlefield. Put a different villain in “Rocky” and you have an entirely different story. That’s why your villain should be the first character you define. Once you know what your villain wants, you automatically know how your hero will achieve his or her final victory.

After you define your villain’s goal, you can define your hero’s goal. Your hero can’t achieve his goal without changing, so you must decide what is holding your hero in a dead end life and what does he need to learn to change and ultimately defeat the villain. When you know how your hero needs to change, you’ll automatically know what type of mentor your hero needs.

Finally, your hero has a goal, but can never achieve that goal all by himself. To win, your hero needs help from one other person who is the hero’s ally. Once you know who your hero is, you automatically know who your hero’s ally is because your hero and your hero’s ally are striving to achieve the same emotional goal. They’re both stuck in a dead end life and they both need to learn something to succeed.

The difference is that the hero needs to learn something to defeat the villain while the hero’s ally needs to learn something to help the hero. Think of Hans Solo learning to think of others instead of himself as he rescues Luke from Darth Vader.

These are the four main characters in your story and their purpose:

  • Villain — defines your story and your hero
  • Hero — represents the main character your audience should root for
  • Hero’s mentor — teaches your hero a lesson to defeat the villain
  • Hero’s ally — helps the hero and changes in the process just like the hero

Omit one of these four characters and you may have a story, but you may have a much stronger story if you incorporate all of these four characters. A story without a villain is pointless. A story without a hero is equally pointless.

A story without a mentor means the hero never changes, which makes for a dull story. A story without an ally means that the hero does everything himself, which doesn’t seem realistic. As a result, you probably need a mentor and an ally for your hero.

Your hero, hero’s ally, and hero’s mentor change. Your villain does not change. However, both your villain and hero’s mentor are often pursuing a goal of their own, and these goals are what brings them into contact with your hero.

As you can see, your story is more than just about a single hero, but about at least four characters whose lives intertwine like the strands of a rope to create a stronger rope.

In your own screenplay, ask yourself if you have all four characters. If not, why not? You could be missing out on strengthening your story by omitting one of these characters.

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