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The hero (protagonist) and the villain (antagonist) are the two most important characters in most stories. They have opposing goals and are bound through conflict. Audiences love to see them battle it out. Rooting for a hero with an uphill battle and booing the bad guy is part of the fun of going to the movies.
Protagonist: This is the hero, the main character of your story. These are the essential traits of a compelling protagonist:
• He must be active. He must drive the conflict.
• He must have a strong goal, and he must not compromise.
• He must face a series of ever-increasing obstacles, but he must have some hope of achieving his goal.
• He must be special or unique in a meaningful way
• The audience must empathize with the protagonist. They must root for him.
Remember, story is conflict. Nobody wants to watch a hero who doesn't do anything or is indecisive. Make sure he has a goal that he pursues actively. And he must earn his reward. Life shouldn't be too easy for him. "Make him suffer. Force him to claw his way out," says screenwriter Rose Gumarova. "At first I thought it was sadistic to throw my protagonist into hell. But then I realized that when I'm watching a movie, I love cheering the main character when he's fighting overwhelming opposition. As a writer, if you baby your characters you cheat your audience."
Antagonist: The antagonist wants to stop the hero. Usually the antagonist is another person, but sometimes it's a natural disaster (The Day After), an animal or a creature (Jaws), the supernatural (The Exorcist), or even the character himself battling an inner conflict (Leaving Las Vegas). Inner conflict, however, is harder to write for the beginning screenwriter. If you're starting out, build your story around a strong external conflict against a well-defined antagonist. Most antagonists are villains with an unmistakable bad side, but there are exceptions. In romantic comedies, the protagonist usually ends up marrying the antagonist! Instead of thinking of the antagonist as the bad guy, think of him, her, or it as the main source of opposition to the protagonist.
If the protagonist could easily beat the antagonist, there would be no story. No matter how strong the protagonist is, the antagonist must start out stronger, with his own goal that he pursues as rigorously as the protagonist does his. Develop your antagonist with the same care you devote to your protagonist. Both actors and audiences love a great antagonist. The best villains (Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, The Joker) are as complex and interesting as the hero.