COMMON TROPES – PROTAGONISTS
More common tropes to be understood, avoided, and/or subverted per your desire.
I see dead people. The protagonist is grieving a dead spouse, a dead child, or both. Screenwriters have murdered more fictitious children on the page than the Bubonic Plague. So many tearful scenes over gravesites.
The traumatic past. The protagonist is haunted by a traumatic XYZ that happened in the past. If this is an action or thriller project, very often we’ll get a flashback to the protagonist dealing with a harrowing situation in a military setting. So many dead soldiers in so many locations in Iraq/Afghanistan. This usually involves an IED or an ambush. Very often, the protagonist is inadvertently at fault, and that’s what fuels her sadness.
PTSD. Continuing the thought… In action scripts and various thrillers (especially detective thrillers) our protagonist struggles with PTSD. This is frequently expressed via the action-thriller protagonist go-to: alcoholism. So many empty vodka bottles; so many scenes of the protagonist sitting in a bar, staring at a shot of whiskey, trying to decide whether to do it or not.
Man-child. Oh-so-many comedies are driven by protagonists who just have to learn to grow up. If male, we’re talking about a man-child who still likes to do the dude-bro player party thing, and/or is the nerdy version thereof with the video games and the fixation on pop culture.
Party girl. If our comedy protagonist is female, her transgressiveness/need to grow up/doesn’t take nothin’ from nobody is usually expressed via booze and random hook-ups.
Good looking. Female characters never seem to know how attractive they are, though they are very frequently strong and fiercely independent. If we were to get a dollar for all of the fiercely independent female protagonists in screenplays, we would have almost as many dollars as we’d get from the dead spouses/kids.
Male characters are often ruggedly handsome or boyishly handsome. If the script is a comedy or romcom, he might also have a spring in his step and/or a twinkle in his eye.
Everything falls apart. If the project is a certain kind of drama (the “Sad Man” drama) or dramedy, we’ll often open with the protagonist losing everything. He comes home to find his wife is cheating on him/announces she wants a divorce; he gets let go from his job; he gets in some kind of legal trouble and/or he loses all his money, etc.
Joe Campbell. If the project is fantasy and/or a certain kind of sci-fi, the protagonist is too clearly a product of Hero With a Thousand Faces. This person lives in a village and some goons attack so they have to go on a journey to get The Thing that will defeat The Evil and along the way they meet supporting protagonists, etc.
Pretentious road movie. Our protagonist’s car breaks down in a small Southwestern town with a kooky name (Revelation, AZ, Pop. 66) that’s chock full of colorful characters. This is more of a ‘90s thing, but still shows up.