The Same, But Different

Well into the first draft of my new spec script, and tackling an interesting problem.  Because of the nature of the story – two people on the run over the course of one frantic night – the Protagonist and the Attractor spend almost all the movie together.  They want the same thing, they’re pursuing the same evidence, so they rarely have reason to split up –

But two characters doing exactly the same thing is dramatic death.  Either one of them is doing something and the one is watching, or they’re both doing and saying the same thing.  Either way, one of them feels redundant.  And because your instinct is (quite correctly) to give the meat of the story to the Protagonist, the Attractor just stands around telling him how clever he is, and looking pretty.  A character who starts off smart, rebellious and opinionated slowly dissolves into eye candy, purely through a lack of independent things to do and say.

So how do I avoid turning one of my leads into a weak, redundant character?  I’m starting to think the key is to give any two characters who spend a lot of time together  different but complimentary objectives.

So, say your movie’s about a cop and a DA who want to expose police corruption.  Make the cop’s objective to find the corrupt officer who gunned down his partner, and the DA’s objective to expose and prosecute the entire network of corrupt officers in this precinct.

Now, although they’re headed in the same direction, they’ll be chasing slightly different evidence, talking to different people, prioritising different elements of the case.

And most  importantly of all – now they have slightly different objectives, they can come into conflict about them.  The cop wants to kill the man who killed his partner; the DA views this man as a vital witness who must be kept alive.  Now they have to argue out the morals and the practicalities of their situation, dramatise the theme of your story in their actions.  Instant conflict – and conflict is what drama’s all about.

So, how can you give each of your main characters a slightly different objective, creating independent action and conflict, while maintaining the overall through-line of your story?

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