Your characters are a function of the plot, archetypes that constellate around the dramatic question. Story is essentially an argument with the dramatic question being the thesis statement we are setting out to prove.
Exploring the Dramatic Argument
In the Will Ferrell comedy Anchorman, the protagonist Ron Burgundy wants to maintain a “men only” newsroom. He claims that women are inferior, though this claim is plainly a disguise for his fears. Ron thinks that if a woman enters his workspace, he will lose control of himself and his power will be usurped. This is the subtext of the film and the nature of the real want for all of the characters — the desire for respect. The dramatic argument is: “Can men and women work together?” When the lovely Veronica Corningstone gets assigned to the newsroom as a reporter, Ron is outraged. Through the story, the argument plays out. Ron experiences a shift in perception when he discovers that he is in love with her and does not merely wish to take her to bed. He reframes his attraction to Veronica as something that is not purely sexual, but is also about mutual respect. In doing so, it becomes possible for men and women to work together in the newsroom.
In Forrest Gump, all of the characters want the same thing: they all want normalcy. His mother wants her son to have every opportunity and is willing to have sex with the local school principal to ensure Forrest’s enrollment at the “normal” school. Lieutenant Dan loses his legs in the war and consequently falls into depression, nearly destroying himself from self-abuse as a result of no longer being “normal.” Jenny wants to run far away to escape the memory of her abusive childhood so that she can be normal. Forrest Gump, the title character, does not seek normalcy. He is the only character in the story who is content. And, ironically, good fortune showers Forrest wherever he turns.
The transformation in Forrest Gump is not for the protagonist but for the audience. We see, through Gump’s journey, that everything we desire lies within. His love for Jenny is pure and never wavers. When they consummate their relationship, it produces a child that Forrest must raise when Jenny dies from AIDS. Ultimately, he gets what he wants: to share his life with Jenny through their son. The want gets reframed for the audience when we understand, through the protagonist, that our desire for normalcy can lead us down a rabbit hole, while our willingness to embrace who we are and live a life of authenticity can lead to unimagined good fortune.
What is the Dramatic Question in Your Story?
Explore this question as a quick writing exercise for your work-in-progress. (See if you can write it down in a single sentence.)
Now, do you see how all of the characters in your story constellate around this question? In other words, notice how they all want the same thing at nature, i.e., freedom, justice, meaning, purpose, success, etc.
Do you see how this dramatic question shifts for your protagonist from the beginning to the end?
Learn more about marrying the wildness of your imagination to the rigor of structure in The 90-Day Novel, The 90-Day Memoir, or The 90-Day Screenplay workshops.