Who should be my protagonist?
Question: I am writing a screen play that takes place in modern day New York City with two established characters. One of them is Evelyn Plaitning, the leader of a gang. She is embittered about events in her past and witnessed many injustices in her lifetime. Evelyn founded the gang to fight against injustice in the United States. The problem is that she goes about it in the wrong ways that are typical of a traditional gang. The second character is Harold. He joined Evelyn's gang when he was younger because he was depressed and anxious. Now, Harold is questioning his past decison. I have two plot ideas. The first involves the reformation of Evelyn and reconciling her to her past. It shows where she's coming from and how violence is not needed to fight against injustice. She is shown what consequences may arise if she doesn't change when the leader of a rival gang is shot by the police and is still questioning her identity. Harold serves as an impact character in this instance. The other idea is the story focusing on Harold and making him the protagonist. In this scenario, Harold is a member of Evelyn's gang and is questioning if this was the right decision because his unhappiness is increasing. Harold must face his depression and anxiety issues first to have any chance of reaching that decision. Please give me some advice on which route I should take.
This is the basis of my screen play, and I want to fully develop both characters. Thank you.Answer:
You have to ask yourself what the goal of the story is and whether it will be achieved. In other words, are you writing a tragedy or a happy ending?
Your main character should be the character whose decision, whether to change or not, determines what the outcome will be.
In other words, is the key to resolving (or failing to resolve) the story happily the result of Evelyn's decision whether or not to change, to become a different person than she has been up to now? Or is it the result of Harold resolving his anxiety issues? Which of these two characters makes the crucial decision on which hangs the fate of everyone?
You could probably write an effective screenplay revolving around either of these characters. Ultimately, it's also a question of whose story matters to you the most, and what audience you are trying to reach. The rule of thumb is that, when writing for a male audience, you use a male main character who is running out of time. For a female audience, you use a female main character who is running out of options. But this is not a hard and fast guideline and there are plenty of exceptions. (For example, the film 12 Years a Slave
is about a male main character running out of options.)