When The Heroes & Villains In Your Screenplay Defy Traditional Roles


In the current screenwriting landscape, screenwriters are leaning towards morally complex and morally dubious characters. They are neither entirely good, nor bad. Moreover, they are neither mainly good, with a few flaws to make them more realistic, or mainly bad with some goodness which emerges during the story.

Film audiences are increasingly becoming attracted to non-traditional protagonist (hero) and antagonist (villain) characters. They love the morally gray areas that blend both a character’s ego and spirit. It’s also worth noting that not all protagonists are heroes and not all villains are antagonists.

Defining the hero and villain of your story

The hero is the main character of your screenplay. He is generally good, albeit with some veritable flaws. But identifiably good nonetheless.

What happens when your hero has an identity crisis and questions his goodness?

The villain is generally seen as the antagonist who counters every move the protagonist makes.

How do we know when the villain has gotten to the hero and unduly influences them?

What if the villain isn’t entirely malicious? What if they can justify their evil means to meet their noble ends?

Now we’re getting into the brave new world of modern storytelling.

When heroes turn bad and villains turn good

I’ve listed a few indicators when both heroes and villains question their path and purpose. Use the terms hero and villain interchangeably in each sentence.

  • The hero starts doubting the intentions, motives and abilities of the other good guys. He questions them to the point of considering if he should side with the villains.
  • The hero argues with his colleagues, sometimes to the point of questioning their loyalty.
  • The hero has serious disagreements and arguments with his superiors. He may get fired, reprimanded or simply ejected from the organization he represents.
  • The hero suffers a major loss or trauma and questions whether being good is the right thing to do.
  • The hero starts observing heroic qualities in the villains.
  • The hero embraces his dark side as his dominant force.
  • The hero allows himself to be seduced by the villains.
  • The hero offers to help the villains in exchange for something.
  • The hero suddenly develops new interests they have never considered before.
  • The hero becomes reckless and rejects the value system they have followed for years.
  • The hero infiltrates the villains’ organization and gradually becomes on of them.
  • The hero lashes out those closest to him in an effort to heal himself.
  • The hero gets tired of being good and does something bad totally out of character and feels good about it.
  • The hero cuts himself off from loved ones and goes it alone to sort himself out.

So add a dash of darkness to your protagonists and a streak of light to your antagonists and watch your screenwriting improve.

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