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Screenwriting Structure Series Part 13: The Protagonist's Call To Action Dilemma

By The Unknown Screenwriter

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You may or may not have heard about this... Most of us have heard about the Protagonist's "call to action" which is followed by "refusal of the call." And I personally believe in the Protagonist's call to action - refusal of the call but what about right before the call to action?

Remember the inciting incident? Remember how it totally kicks the Protagonist off that balance beam we call his or her ordinary world?

Well right after we make him or her lose their balance and take that fall, they're stunned. They weren't expecting this to happen to them. Their ordinary world is now disrupted to the point that they've got to stand back and take a breath. They don't know what the hell to do...

Time to regroup.

The Protagonist is going through a call to action dilemma. No, this ain't the big dilemma that you might want to throw at your Protagonist later on down the line... This is a small one but to me, it's really important. In fact, I look for it in every script and guess what?

I rarely see it.

Most books and gurus never seem to mention it but don't let that keep you from understanding it. Most scripts that I read definitely have the call to action - refusal of the call and wow... They seem to slap that right in our face, don't they? It's almost like the screenwriter is saying, "Look Ma, I'm using the Hero's Journey!"

In other words - it ain't too subtle. No it doesn't have to be but it just happens to be one of my pet peeves.

Oh well.

The Protagonist's call to action dilemma is your chance - early on in your story to show us how screwed up your Protagonist is, or maybe how screwed up your Protagonist, ain't. That all depends on you and your Protagonist.

But make no mistake, showing us how your Protagonist handles this dilemma is important stuff. It helps clarify what kind of person your protagonist is. It's okay to show us how screwed up your Protagonist is before the call to action dilemma because now you can redeem him or her if you've a mind to.

Or not.

Sure, we almost always see the Protagonist refuse to get involved in a new adventure... Geez... At this point in our lives and with all these movies - haven't we pretty much come to expect it? They can't get involved because they're needed at home. They can't get involved because it's not their job. They can't get involved because their pee-pee hurts.

Ho hum. Fine. Then all of a sudden their pee-pee doesn't hurt anymore OR what the hell... Even though it still hurts like hell, they're gonna go.

Sever that predictability by concentrating more on the actual dilemma that the inciting incident brings to the game. Take this opportunity to let us learn more about your Protagonist. His or her real fears and flaws. Now's the time to show us. Now's the time to tell us if this guy or girl is worth our investment of time, popcorn, and soda.

Don't pass it up.

Next Article in series.

About The Unknown Screenwriter

A working screenwriter and producer, The Unknown Screenwriter makes his home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California and somewhere in the state of New Mexico with just a little bit of Los Angeles thrown in when he feels he can breathe the air.

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