Like anything else in a screenplay, there are rules that govern the hero. Adhering to the rules can make the role more attractive to an A-list actors.
There are key areas to consider when crafting the hero’s role and the journey the audience will undergo during the hero’s story.
Give the hero a grand entrance that makes him memorable and leaves no doubt that he’s the story’s hero.
Give the hero a memorable name. Make it a name reflective of the genre. For example, Indiana Jones evokes a sense of adventure, while James Bond suits a British spy and Rambo screams action and danger.
MAJORITY OF SCENES
The hero should be in a majority of scenes. This might seem obvious, but many screenplays by aspiring writers spend too much time developing supporting roles and the hero suffers for it. An A-list actor won’t take a role in a movie where he isn’t in most of the scenes. Why would he?
Supporting roles are great. They can make us laugh, cry and scream, but the hero should still get the best lines.
The hero’s arc (personality flaw) should be setup as early as possible in Act I, preferably when he’s first introduced. DO NOT have him tell us his flaw. The best way to introduce it to us is in a quick, independent scene or within the confines of a larger scene. A secondary way is via dialogue delivered from another character. The visual method is preferred for motion picture.
ARC IN ACT II
Every scene in Act II should push the hero toward his arc, even if he isn’t in the scene. For example, a scene with a bomber setting a device doesn’t require the hero to be present for the audience to know the hero will have to stop the bomber and save the day. The hero may be absent, but the scene still pushes him toward change.
Hero must have an identifiable arc scene toward the end of Act II or at the spin point (Plot Point II). The writer should be able to identify this scene by page #.
HERO SAVES THE DAY
The hero must save the day and he MUST take out the nemesis. A supporting role cannot come to the rescue. A writer might think he needs to give a supporting role a ‘big moment’, and that’s fine, but it can’t be a defining moment like taking out the nemesis. This moment must go to the hero. Imagine if Alfred took out the Joker in a Batman movie? Doesn’t work, does it?
HERO MUST CHANGE
The hero must change or the plot fails. This change must be a result of being forced to do so by the plot’s external conflict. The hero can’t decide to change on his own. He doesn’t want to change. He’s in his comfort zone and the external conflict forces him out of the zone and leads him to change.
In the beginning, the nemesis should be smarter, stronger, faster, more clever than the hero. The hero must change in order to grow strong enough, emotionally and/or physically, to defeat the nemesis. The hero will be unable to rise to the occasion and defeat the nemesis unless he changes. Change makes the hero strong enough to conquer the nemesis.
The hero must take the lead, but it is the antagonist’s plan that sets the story into motion. Before the antagonist came along, the hero lived within his comfort zone and had no plans to change. It’s the antagonist’s plan that sets the story into motion and forces change in the hero. The antagonist may or may not be aware that his actions are forcing change in the hero.
Even though the hero takes the lead, it’s best to make him a reluctant hero when the story begins and he gradually grows and changes.
A sure-fire plot seller is an ironic hero. The perfect example is SNAKES ON A PLANE where a hero who’s afraid of snakes is stuck on a plane full of snakes. Remember ARACHNOPHOBIA where a spider fearing doctor ends up in a town overrun by spiders?
LIKE OR HATE
I’ve heard many gurus tell writers to make the hero likable. Well, I’d say Yes and No. What the gurus should say is the hero can be a real ass in the beginning (remember RAIN MAN?). What counts is that he’s likable by the end of the movie.
Finally, I want to say that the reason we fall in-love with movie heroes is because they do the things we wish we had the moxie to do. They stand up for love, they rush into burning buildings, and will save a dog from a flooded river. They not only entertain us, they allow us to live through them in a visceral sense for an hour or two and that’s why movies will always be with us. And it all starts with the hero!