The characters in your screenplay are the basis of your story. They are typically categorized as either protagonists and antagonists. One group of characters either helps the main character achieve their story goal, while the other other acts to obstruct them.
The main characters have mentors, buddies and helpers to lead them to their final goal. This is screenwriting 101 stuff. All part of the course of writing a screenplay.
What if certain characters in your movie script aren’t entirely supportive of the main character’s pursuits? What if the villains are not really villains or allies not really allies?
These characters are called SHAPESHIFTERS.
They may initially help the main character and then turn against them. They may also perform dual roles to assist and obstruct them.
Shapeshifters can really add intrigue to your movie script. Why do certain characters switch sides? Let’s explore some of the reasons why.
PARADOX OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR
There are some psychologists who believe that we are not exclusively good or bad. We often have a predominant leaning, but not exclusive. If your characters are bribed by trickster characters, they’ve had enough of being the nice guy (or girl), they act on their selfish impulses, or see great personal rewards, they may switch sides.
This is a pre-meditated act, where the traitor appears to act in the best interests of the main character in your film script, but really has their own agenda. An example of this is when a group of thieves pull off a heist on the understanding that the haul will be equally split. Instead, one person betrays the group steals the entire haul.
Consider the movies of ambitious rock stars determined to make it big. Then life gets in the way. One member gets married, another has to move, another loses interest, another decides it’s all too hard. Eventually band practice becomes less frequent and the band breaks up.
Consider a team of experts fighting off an alien invasion. As the impending alien attack progresses, each member of the team develops different strategies to handle it. Some may prefer to strengthen their defense, while others prefer to strengthen the attack. Others want to wait it out to see what they’re dealing with.
This can be something like a job loss, the discovery of a secret, a loss or gain of resources or information. Let’s consider the previous example of the alien invasion. What happens when the aliens arrive? Did the team under or overestimate their strength or motives?
Consider typical road trip movies. A group of friends plan a cross country vaycay. However, each friend may have a different reason to go. One may be mentally exhausted and need a change of scenery, one may crave an adventure, another may be escaping someone or something, while another may be going to someone or something. All these competing agendas can lead to conflict to the point where they’re no longer friends.
I love these films where the main characters are expected to conform and have unquestioning loyalty to the codas of their families, religions, careers or communities. Things come to a head when they are forced into a dilemma. A decision needs to be made between two or more equally undeniable options. If they choose against their communities, they face punishment or even expulsion.
This is an ugly one. The main character’s unwavering ally is blackmailed, threatened or tortured to change allegiances to protect themselves.
TESTING THE MAIN CHARACTER
I deliberately saved this one till last. The greater the danger and risk for the main character, the greater the reward. There is a chosen one that must prove their worth of a highly coveted mission. Testing is as much a measure of dedication, readiness, mental and physical strength, maturity as it is a measure of ability. The mentor can often be such a character that initially appear to be a villain.
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