Date: 10/23/03

Character Development

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BradDaily Screenwriting Tips 

In the screenplay for the film, "Final Destination," high school student Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), is defined as the protagonist by the way in which he tries to save six people from death.

While awaiting takeoff on board a plane with students from his high school French class, Alex has a premonition that the plane, flight 180, will explode.

He panics, getting hysterical and forcing one of his teachers and five of his fellow students to leave the plane with him. It then explodes in mid-takeoff over the airport. 

But, Alex soon learns that he and the other survivors are still not safe. Death itself is coming back to kill him; his teacher, Valerie Lewton (Kristen Cloke); and the five students: Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), Carter Horton (Kerr Smith), Tod Waggner (Chad E. Donella), Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott), and Terry Chaney (Amanda Detmer).

Alex is defined as the protagonist by the way he interacts with his teacher, Valerie, and the surviving students.

The reason his interactions define him in this way is that he's the person who alters the course of the survivors' lives, describes what "death's design" appears to be, determines when each of the survivors will die, shows where they were originally supposed to die on the plane, and demonstrates why he had a premonition about the plane explosion.

Alex is the person who alters the life of his teacher, Valerie Lewton, by making her leave the plane before it takes off and explodes.

Weeks later, she decides to permanently leave town because she is distraught over the death of her students and a fellow teacher who died on the plane with them.

But, before she can leave, death comes for her in her house, creating a cause-and-effect chain of events that kills her and creates a fire that snakes through the living room of her house in the same way a fuel-line fire snaked through the plane, flight 180.

Death's design is being re-enacted.

Alex first figures out what death's design looks like after the death of two flight 180 survivors, high school students Tod Waggner and Terry Chaney.

Alex does so by using a computer-generated illustration to trace the snake-like path of the fuel-line fire along the seats on the plane.

He finds that Tod and Terry sat in the exact path of the fire on the plane and have now died in the same order they would have died on the plane.

As a result of this discovery, Alex realizes that he had initially thwarted "death's design." The pattern of the fuel-line fire that caused the plane to explode mimicked the order in which Alex; his teacher; and the five surviving students sat on the plane.

So, he now knows when the other student survivors will die. The places where the students sat on the plane will determine the order in which they will die.

On the plane, the seat of Alex's teacher, Valerie Lewton, was next in line after the seats of Tod and Terry. So, he rushes to Valerie's house to save her from death. But, he is too late. Death has already claimed her.

The reason why Alex had a premonition that the plane, flight 180, would explode upon takeoff is that he's a superstitious person.

While packing his suitcase in preparation for his trip aboard flight 180, he tells his mother to leave the sticker from his previous plane flight on the suitcase. His reasoning is that because the previous flight didn't crash, the sticker is good luck and will prevent flight 180 from crashing.

It is this type of superstitious behavior that makes him look for signs of disaster.

The first major sign of disaster he notices occurs when a flight stewardess in the airport tells him that the numbers for his date of birth are the same as the numbers for his flight's time of departure.

He reacts fearfully when she tells him this and notices that a flight status chart in the airport reads, "Terminal."

He notices another sign of disaster while in a bathroom at the airport. In the bathroom, he hears a John Denver song that reminds him that Denver died in a plane crash.

In the third and final sign of disaster, he falls asleep shortly after boarding flight 180. He dreams about the fire that will snake its way through the plane and make the plane explode.

When he awakens from his dream, he leaves the plane quickly, taking one of his teachers and five of his fellow students with him.

Alex's dream is the premonition that serves as the focus of the story.

It is this premonition that leads to his discovery of death's design, the subject of the story.

After his premonition of disaster comes true, the other characters react to Alex and his discovery of death's design throughout the rest of the story.  

Consequently, he determines the course of events in "Final Destination."

For that reason, he can be viewed as the protagonist.

"Final Destination" uses the protagonist as a tool with which to tell the story and develop the other characters.

To do so for your own screenplay:


Find news articles in which an ordinary, everyday  person altered the course of several people's lives.


Look for information showing that this person made friends or  colleagues avoid a disastrous event by causing them to change their business plans or recreational plans.


The disastrous event will be the subject of your story.


The focus of your story will be the character traits or special abilities that the ordinary, everyday person--the protagonist--used to make his friends or colleagues change their plans.


Define the main characteristics of your protagonist by answering the following questions:


Who is he? In other words, what kind of person is   he? Is he a religious man, a slacker, an astute  businessman, a devoted husband, a blue-collar  worker, a student?


What special abilities does he possess? Is he good at math? Can he psychoanalyze people rapidly? Does he have an uncanny understanding of physics or chemistry?


When does he realize that disaster is about to strike? Does he recognize a behavorial pattern or a mechanical pattern that reminds him of a past disaster?


Where does he experience a realization that something could go wrong and harm him and his friends or colleagues? Is he at home, at work, at a recreational event, or traveling?


Why does he possess the ability to recognize patterns of disaster before those patterns come to fruition? Was he in the armed forces? Did he acquire a specialized degree in college? Did his parents imbue him with specific behavioral characteristics?


Describe the sequence of events from the disaster that the protagonist and his friends or colleagues narrowly avoid.


Define the way in which he helps his friends or colleagues understand why they were able to avoid disaster.


Do so by:


Showing that one of the protagonist's past experiences or memories is related to the sequence of events from the disaster.


Showing that the protagonist is able to recognize specific behavioral patterns, mechanical patterns, or historical patterns.


Showing that he will not allow history to repeat  itself.

Note: This list of questions is a partial screenwriting exercise whose purpose is to help you create a story idea for a screenplay.

To obtain a list of questions that will help you write an entire screenplay, purchase's full screenwriting exercise.

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