WHO’S YOUR HERO?
Who’s your hero? No, this is not some college essay question about some inspirational person in your life. It’s about your story. Who’s the hero of your story? Sometimes they’re called the “protagonist” and sometimes they’re just called the “main character.” Your story needs someone to push the action, to drive the plot, and for the audience to connect with. If you look at stories from around the world, throughout history, they almost all have one thing in common: a main character. And the main character in a story almost always has a problem to solve. The storyteller establishes the hero’s ordinary life, and then something comes along that upsets that normalcy. And there’s often a journey or a quest to restore that normalcy. Your main character should have a goal; a problem to solve. And the audience should relate to that problem.
Your main character will often have a series of smaller problems to endure so they can achieve the larger goal. But they often have a personal question that they want answered as well. Look at Harry Potter for example. Harry has to survive his nasty aunt and uncle, starting at a new school, making new friends, and coping with rotten professors. These are issues that many people can relate to, no matter who they are or where they’re from. But he also has a deeply personal goal: to find out who killed his parents and why. Setting up a personal reason why your main character needs to solve their problem will enrich your story and draw in your audience.
Your main character doesn’t always have to go on a journey to face a problem. But, to capture the imagination of your audience, thrusting your hero into a new world, with new people and new rules, is a great way to create as many problems for her as possible. Look at Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games as an example. She must travel from District 12 to the Capital to compete in the Hunger Games to protect her sister, and she meets a variety of people along the way – some good and some sinister. And her personal goal, the one that helps her survive this cruel competition, is the possibility that she might be able to help the impoverished people of District 12. Without going on a journey into an unknown land, Katniss would never be able to achieve this goal.
Conversely, there are many stories that don’t begin with a journey, but instead begin an unknown person or problem dropping into the hero’s life. A new teacher, a new parent, or even a new puppy can all create a bunch of new problems for the hero. Look at Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. He has the normal problems of a teenager: fitting in at school, bickering with his parents, and making friends. But after he gets bitten by a spider (spoiler alert) and realizes he’s become the new Spider-man, his problems are just beginning! Not only does he have to defeat the evil Kingpin and foil his plan, but Miles must also accept a daunting new personal reality: he’s the new Spider-man.
When you’re starting to think about new stories to tell, think about your hero. Who are they? What’s their ordinary life like? What’s the problem that’s going to disrupt their ordinary life as much as possible? If you make those problems big, but also relatable, you’re on your way to telling a great story.
Born and raised in Denver, Doug Howell moved to
California to attend the film school at Chapman
University. Doug received an MFA from the AFI
Conservatory where he produced seven short films
including festival favorites PSYCHO HILLBILLY CABIN
MASSACRE! and MULTIPLE CHOICE. He has worked in
Hollywood in a variety of different production and
development positions for numerous producers including:
Geena Davis, Gale Anne Hurd, Pierre David, Haim Saban,
and Tony and Ridley Scott. Doug served as Associate
Producer of three Lifetime Channel thrillers: ACCUSED
AT 17, MATERNAL OBSESSION and HOME INVASION, and co-
wrote FUGITIVE AT 17, SORORITY SURROGATE and GUILTY AT
17. As Head of Development for Jorva Entertainment
Productions, Doug served as Associate Producer or Co-
Producer on several television and feature films
including HOT BOT, INSPIRED TO KILL, THE PERFECT MATCH,
and THE BACHELOR NEXT DOOR. Soon to be released
projects include: RIDE-SHARE and MY STEPFATHER’S SECRET.