13 Screenwriting Rules

My friend Pete McCormack is a novelist, filmmaker, fast-talker and general raconteur. He’s got a website and blog, and he recently posted his list of ‘13 screenwriting rules that can never be broken (except when they’re broken really well)’. Here is rule #9:

If the best-friends and side-characters are more interesting than the lead character, the script may have internal bleeding. Try giving the most interesting, compelling, original traits to the lead character. We want to follow the most interesting and compelling characters—in life and art.

I picked that one because I don’t agree with it. There are plenty of movies where the protagonist functions as the straight man, while everybody spirals around him in wackier circles. Garden State immediately springs to mind.


  1. Darren, I got a tip off from a spy that you’d posted something I should look at. As for Brem, in case he wasn’t sure, I am definitely, undoubtedly full of s…sheeps?—and I don’t even know what a s….sheeps is, but I think it’s something very positive and I appreciate his support.

    I do want to say this: Darren, I always knew you were brilliant, but clearly you’re both brilliant AND honourable for adding my caveat (UNLESS they’re broken really well)—not to mention “MAY have internal bleeding…”

    You’re so right that it can be done. The idea was to keep the writer clearer (me, for instance) on the intention, because screenplays are tough, man, and with a less than interesting lead character, it generally means a less than interesting screenplay.

    For a huge percentage of great movies (screenplays), books, novels, plays, poems, possibly haikus, and perhaps even fortune cookies, the rule will prove solid, (as anyone who wants to create a list will soon discover, despite the exceptions).

    And even when it’s not so obvious, in terrific movies, the main character will invariably still have a lot going on.

    I mean who ever picks a lover because his/her friends are cool?

    Thanks for everything—you little devil’s advocate, you.

  2. I’d agree with Garden State. The same could be said for TV too…Didn’t Seinfeld do this on a regular basis?

  3. While the wacky characters may be circling around the central character, the audience is meant to identify with the central character — if he or she is flat, the audience loses interest.

  4. Again, it depends on what is meant by “interesting”. All characters should be interesting, but Cheryl has it right…the audience should want to follow the storyline surrounding the lead character.

    Supporting characters are generally the quirky ones, while leads play it “straight” for greater identifiability. That’s why they have to be the most “interesting”.

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