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Character Development in The Pursuit of HappynessThs Pursuit of Happyness

By Elaine Radford

A good screenplay always needs a strong, well-developed main character (protagonist). But, in a character-driven film, the protagonist is the story. This means that there would be no story without him.

In the film, The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner’s (Will Smith) unique personality sets the plot in motion. Living in San Francisco in the 1980s, Chris struggles to make a living during an economic recession and provide for his wife and young son. When he loses everything, including his wife, and is left homeless and destitute, he uses his inner resources—his intelligence, charm, wit, and extraordinary tenacity— in a seemingly endless struggle to protect his son and gain economic security.

Armed with only a high school education and his unique personality, Chris overcomes every obstacle in his path to become a stock broker and finally a millionaire. This is a true story about a man whose love for his son and his pursuit of happiness motivate him. His actions help move the story forward, developing the plot.

To write a screenplay in which the main character is the story, ask yourself several questions:

1. Who is your protagonist? Describe your protagonist’s physical and psychological
characteristics and what makes him or her unique.

2. What is your protagonist’s goal in the story? How does he use his extraordinary characteristics
to overcome obstacles and achieve his goal?

3. When does the story take place? Define the era and the year. Describe any events from that time period that cause conflict for the protagonist.

4. Where does the story take place? Describe the geographic location. What role does the location play in the main conflict of the story?

5. Why do the actions of the protagonist determine whether he achieves his goal and overcomes
obstacles? How do his unique character traits influence his actions?

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