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We all know that our protagonist needs to have an antagonist and/or obstacles to take action and reach the goals they set themselves to achieve. However, since life and real people are complicated, fictional characters shouldn’t be much different. In real life, we often stop ourselves from following and reaching our dreams and goals. Something on the inside misguides us and re-directs our focus, and the same should apply to our characters. Some inner force may stop them from reaching their goals making their journey pretty complicated.
Fear, anxiety and indecisiveness have dramatically influenced people’s lives, often with negative consequences. People are stuck in one place, unable to decide because they fear the consequences of their decisions, which in turn brings up anxiety. I’m a firm believer that characters reflect our human nature, so we often create them based on our experiences, observations, and people we know in real life.
As writers, we shouldn’t be afraid of complicating our protagonists’ lives, making them complex and unpredictable, just the way life is.
Let’s face it, we almost never centre our lives according to the to-do list, so neither should our characters. Often, our plans go out of the window when life happens. It’s human nature to fear making decisions, and unless pushed to the wall, we will try to avoid and postpone them for as long as possible. That is why the external forces such as an antagonist or the obstacles need to push the main character to make a decision leading them to action (characters taking action is why people want to watch films).
It’s natural that the protagonist makes conflicting decisions. Hello, real life! Even when it looks, feels or seems wrong. They will strive to achieve their goals but cannot always get there in a straight line, and that’s what makes the story more interesting for the audience.
In many good stories, the protagonist’s flaws are reflected in their opponent or obstacles. So, think about how you could make your antagonist more interesting by leveraging the protagonist weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to have protagonist flaws reflected in their antagonist. It can only help the hero to fight harder to achieve their goals.
In reality, people usually get closer to reaching their goals after resolving their inner struggle that stop them from progressing and/or being successful in life (hence in theory, therapy should work). For example: unless we appreciate our own work and time invested in it, no one else will. We won’t be able to attain success, love or happiness unless we feel worthy of it.
The characters we are creating need to come to terms with their inner shortcomings, and our job as writers is to help them see their limitations. Being aware of one’s flaws and weaknesses is the first step towards growth and acceptance.
You should never fear sending your character/s on the wrong path or force them to take the wrong actions; they need to learn, grow and change throughout the story and unless they take action, nothing interesting will happen in the film.
Films with interesting characters that aren’t taking logical actions: