Learn & Become A Better Screenwriter
Since most episodes of television have three or more Storylines (see our tutorial), and ensemble films can have any number as well, it follows that in these types of stories there will be multiple Protagonists, and these Protagonists usually have some sort of Character Flaw that they need to overcome. That’s where Influencing Characters come in and they’ll be there for each storyline. How great is that? SO GREAT!
Basically, whenever a Protagonist has an “issue” or “behavioral problem,” (the Character Flaw), there is usually an Influencing Character to help them change or get over it.
The pilot of Baskets, entitled “Renoir”
Storyline A – Chip fails out of clown school and moves back home to Bakersfield where he becomes a rodeo clown to keep his dream alive.
Storyline Character Flaw: snobby about his job prospects
Influencing Character: Ernie gives Chip a job and helps him get over his “la did ah” ideas of being a clown.
Storyline B – Chip’s scooter gets wrecked and his insurance adjuster Martha starts driving him around.
Storyline Character Flaw: doesn’t want Martha around or to help him
Influencing Character: by the end of the storyline Martha changes his mind about her being around and helping him
Storyline C – Chip tries to get $40 for HBO in the hopes that Penelope with get back together with him
Storyline Character Flaw: will do anything for Penelope
Influencing Character: NONE (Chip’s Flaw doesn’t change in this storyline)
In this example, Chip is the Protagonist for every storyline, but there is a different Influencing Character for each.
ENSEMBLE FILM EXAMPLE
Here are the Influencing Characters for different storylines in the ensemble feature film The Royal Tenenbaums and how they help the Protagonist of each storyline change:
Note that in a few of the storylines there is more than one Influencing Character. Remember, there is no limit to how many of each type of character there can be for any particular storyline. It all comes down to what works.
Sometimes stories will have a specific situation, condition, or Opponent that is engaging in a way that focuses on obstacles rather than change of the Protagonist’s Character Flaw. Because of this approach, there is no inclusion of an Influencing Character in the story.
For the most part these types of stories tend to have high stakes or great personal jeopardy for the Protagonist. This is found most often in the genres of Action and Horror, and in the subgenre of Survival.
Some examples of features that do not have an Influencing Character: Taken, The Martian, 127 Hours, All is Lost, Kill Bill Vol. 1.
Note that the movie Cast Away falls into this category, but the writers employed a clever work-around and had the Protagonist Chuck create his own Influencing Character of sorts in the volleyball Wilson. Wilson gave Chuck someone to talk to, therefore helping the audience understand what Chuck was going through and thinking.
Also good to note that certain storylines of television or ensemble screenplays can have a storyline that has no Influencing Character. This usually means that the storyline is focused on some other component – like Protagonist’s Goal or Opponent or Adventure. In other words, that storyline is more about a conflict and its resolution rather than how the Protagonist changes, which is usually where the Influencing Character would be utilized.