So I’ve been getting paid feedback for a script I rewrote recently, and I’m getting the same kind of notes: “I thoroughly enjoyed reading your script. Your characters and structure are great. But your protagonist doesn’t change at the end.”
What? Are you going to movie theaters to watch protagonists go through the typical cookie-cutter character arc, or are you going to be entertained?
And look, I get it. Great character arcs make for great stories. But NOT all great stories require great character arcs.
This is ESPECIALLY TRUE for action scripts.
I once read a review and analysis of Bourne Ultimatum by a film student that concluded the movie was garbage because “Bourne is still the same man at the end of the story.”
<Insert gif of my head exploding.>
Are people going into that movie to watch the ultimate badass outsmart the agency that created him, or are they going for an emotional character drama?
Again, if your story has room for both, that’s great. But if you’re going to force a character arc into a story that just doesn’t need it, it’s going to make for a bad story.
One of my favorite fictional characters is Jack Reacher, created by Lee Child. It’s one of the most successful novel series ever written. I even really enjoyed the first movie adaptation written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
If you haven’t read the series yet, the stories generally go like this: Jack Reacher arrives in town and kicks the shit out of the bad guy causing trouble for the local residents, then he goes on his way. The series has 20+ novels now, and the guy never goes on a character arc.
He’s basically a modern Shane. Does Shane go on a character arc? No, he doesn’t.
There’s a reason for this. The action genre often has protagonists that don’t change is because the protagonists are the AGENT OF CHANGE themselves.
They aren’t the stereotypical farmer that gets pulled into a new world by external forces and pushed and trained to become a Jedi. They are full-fledged Jedis that show up to the new world on their own volition and are like “Hi, I’m here to fuck some shit up.”
Look at the 2nd and 3rd Captain America movies (even the first one really…). Cap doesn’t change because the entire story is about him bending everyone else to his will of doing the right thing. He changes the world, not the other way around. And those movies end up being some of the best in the Marvel universe.
I could go on about this, but I think you get the point.
So script readers, let’s just keep things real simple.
If you read a script and loved the characters, loved the action and the twists and the structure (and even the ending save for that one thing), and really enjoyed yourself, maybe don’t suggest an overused mantra from a screenwriting book.
There are no rules to writing, only guidelines.