Our hero is here!
There are many ways to talk about Protagonists, but one thing we all know is that they are the essential character in a story – the one we root for, the one we associate with, the one we hope changes, the one we want to see achieve a goal (and sometimes not).
Here are some elements that determine the role of the Protagonist in screenplays:
The Protagonist is the character the audience follows through the story. We watch them as they interact with other characters, perform actions, and deal with plot events. The story is told “through their eyes,” which means that the story or storyline is written from their point of view. As a result, the Protagonist also has the most screen time in a story or storyline.
Our stories are meant to have an impact on our audience. The Protagonist is the character that the story or storyline will impact directly, and the result of this impact is that they change in some way. The Protagonist has a Character Flaw that will change or evolve through the story or storyline. Though other characters may also be affected by the events of the story, the Protagonist will be affected by the Adventure more than any other character, whether positively, negatively, or ironically. (Note: occasionally a Protagonist will not show change in a story or storyline, but that is usually for a specific purpose and is not as common in screenwriting.)
The Protagonist is usually the character that has a Goal and pursues it throughout the Adventure. Other characters can (and often do) help them achieve their Goal, but the Protagonist is the character that has the most at stake in the achieving of the Goal.
The Protagonist relays emotion that the writer wants the audience to feel in any particular moment of the screenplay. Their emotional actions (and reactions) will in turn make the audience feel the same way, which helps the writers influence how the audience experiences our stories. In other words, the Protagonist is the emotional barometer of our story.
The Protagonist Fights the Opponent in the Battle
One other major element that defines a Protagonist is that they face the Opponent in the battle. This does not always mean a physical fight, though it can be (and often is). But in the climactic scene of the story or storyline the Protagonist is the person that finally stands up to the Opponent in some way. They may or may not win, and may or may not have help from other characters, but in most cases the Protagonist is the character that exerts the most effort against the Opponent.