Few main characters can sustain an audience for the full length of a screenplay. Okay, Tom Hanks in Castaway is an exception. Generally speaking, the main characters in your film need other characters around them to help them achieve (or not achieve) their goal.
Bring the PIVOT CHARACTERS to the mix. They are often referred to as SUPPORTING CHARACTERS. However, they can either support or oppose the main character from their goal. Whether they lead them into the story darkness or light, they always provide wisdom, knowledge or facts to guide them towards (or away from) their mission.
Regardless of being positive or negative, pivot characters have equal strength and influence in shaping your main character. Sometimes the main character must go through hell to learn their lesson.
Let’s take a look at the main types to make your screenwriting pop.
1) DISRUPTIVE CHARACTERS
These are interesting pivot characters because often appear to be villains in your screenplay. Their main function is to force the main character to face up to something. It could be acceptance of a truth, acceptance of a reality, or acceptance of their inner demons. Despite the discomfort they cause, they are a necessary evil to make them grow.
Negative disruptive characters do the opposite. They expose the main character in your movie script to their greatest fears with the sole aim of weakening them. They tear open their wounds, reveal secrets and make their lives a living hell.
2) REFLECTIVE CHARACTERS
These tend to be sages. They offer wisdom and solace to the main character, especially during their lowest point. Reflective characters often illustrate the theme of your screenplay. They remind the main character what they value most and why they began their quest in the first place.
3) TIMELY CHARACTERS
Although timely characters typically don’t occupy much screen time, they have maximum impact. They are the characters that get the main character out of a pickle. They help them escape from prison, they reveal critical details such as a password, or the weakness of an opponent.
Teachers spend a significant amount of time with the main character in your screenplay. They often die (either metaphorically or literally) around the mid-point of the movie, when their job is complete and the main character must make their own decisions based on the knowledge gained.
Teachers can be good or bad. They can keep the main character on track and advise them during their story exploration. They can be a parent, a relative, a school teacher or a best friend. Whatever the case, they must have more life experience than the main character.
The departure of a teacher from the story can be sudden, such as a fatal accident, or expected, such as the final stages of a disease.
Tricksters are everything you might expect them to be. They hinder the main character’s path with their dubious sense of morality. They aren’t all bad though. They may coerce the main character to play hooky, drink too many martinis or stay up way too late. They may even end up in a police lockup.
Despite their distorted sense of morality, bad teachers help main characters experience the wilder side of life.
Typically, these characters are mysterious pivot characters who often appear by happenstance and befriend the main character. They present as mysterious and seductive. Good-looking and smart. They take a while to win the confidence of the main character.
Then they turn. They mislead the main character towards a treacherous path. They often impact the main character negatively through a betrayal. They were never on their side.
Conversely, a perceived villain may actually turn out to help the main character.
The characters are sometimes called TRAVELING ANGELS. They facilitate change rather than undergo change. They bring awareness to the main character rather than teach them a lesson.