Being normal and following the rules bores the pants off of you, so how do you shake up an otherwise blasé story? Why, you chuck in another protagonist, of course! Two for the price of one, double the bang for your buck, right? Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, kiddo, but it’s generally not a good idea (unless you’re writing an ensemble/multi-plot screenplay like Crash or Magnolia). Each plot should have a single protagonist—–or Main Character—–whose eyes we see the story through. Une. Unus. Uno. Uma. Eins. Ena. One.
But you’re a rebel, aren’t you? You ain’t gonna have no faceless hack on a blog tell you how to write your story. So, since you’re determined to go the dual protagonist route, why not try thinking of your screenplay in terms of a Dynamic Progression —–having a Main Character who arcs and a Dynamic Character who teaches the Main Character what they need to know? (Pay, I say, pay attention, kid… I’m tryin’ to show you how you can have your cake and eat it too).
THE DYNAMIC PROGRESSION
The Main Character: the main character’s experience or emotional journey is emphasized through his active misbehavior (the way the character acts which affects other people around him/her negatively.)
Example 1: the main character uses violence to solve problems, but then, in the end, works through the main climax utilizing non-violent methods. The active misbehavior doesn’t have to be a negative behavior necessarily, but it does have to affect everyone else around the main character in a negative fashion.
Example 2: In The Apartment, the main character is a human doormat, constantly allowing himself to be trodden upon by others——this is his active misbehavior. Then, he finally learns to stand up for himself at the end.
The Dynamic Character: the central relationship between the main character and a secondary character, with this relationship acting as a catalyst for change in the main character.
Example: Adrian is the reason we care about Rocky. The main character’s active misbehavior affects the secondary character in a negative way. This dynamic relationship is useful in structuring the second act.
The dynamic character may also have an active misbehavior—–most often this is the exact opposite misbehavior exhibited by the main character (violent main character paired up with a non-violent partner; an obsessive-compulsive main character paired up with a laid-back partner, etc). This is true for buddy movies such as Lethal Weapon—–a crazy, suicidal cop is partnered up with a careful, conservative family man—–and on top of this, the conservative, family man cop is retiring in a week.
The 4 Stage Dynamic Progression – in which the main character and the dynamic character are transformed by each other (extremely useful for structuring the second act).
1. Dynamic Introduction: Not necessarily when the main character and the dynamic character meet, but when the nature of their relationship is firmly established.
Example 1: The Sting – Redford meets Newman in scene X, but in scene Y, Redford asks him, “Will you teach me?” and Newman says yes—–the nature of their relationship has then been established.
Example 2: Heathers – when Winona and Christian, together, cover up the accidental death of a friend–they are now locked together in their cover-up. Note that they had met earlier, but the exact nature of their relationship had not been established until the point of said cover-up. The Dynamic Introduction usually happens just before or just after the Act 1 to Act 2 shift.
2. Dynamic Escalation: the deepening of the dynamic relationship, where it becomes more profound, and usually hits The Point of No Return at the mid point.
Example: in Witness—-Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis are locked together when they realize he has to protect her by allowing him to hide out at her place, but their relationship deepens and reaches The Point of No Return when they fall in love (and have sex for the first time–another common Dynamic Escalation). The Dynamic Escalation usually happens halfway through Act 2, at the Mid-Act 2 Reversal.
3. Dynamic Estrangement. The main character and the dynamic character are separated: whether it be mentally, physically, or both. In Star Wars, Ben Kenobi dies, in The Matrix Morpheus is captured, etc. The Dynamic Estrangement usually happens at the Low Point just before the Act 2 to Act 3 shift and is typically the catalyst which begins Act 3 (Neo’s decision that, yes, he is in fact going back into the Matrix to rescue Morpheus, etc.)
4. Dynamic Convergence/Resolution. The dynamic relationship is resolved—–there is closure to the relationship. Sometimes this means the two cannot hope to be together, but they understand at the same time why it has to be this way (Casablanca, Roman Holiday or in Star Wars when Ben Kenobi returns, in a sense, with the sage advice, “Use the Force, Luke” while Luke makes his final run on the Death Star). The Dynamic Convergence takes place in the climax, the battle scene, at the height of Act 3.
See? That wasn’t so painful, was it? Sally forth and be writeful.