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Screenplay Case Study: Dual Protagonist Character Arcs in The Getaway

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by Naomi Write + Co. in character, screenwriting, story analysis

In some stories, there are two equally important protagonists, each of whom experiences a character arc.

In other words, there are two protagonists in the story, working toward a common goal. Each one has something specific to learn from the experience.

Writing a script that showcases two characters with their own arcs who eventually also grow in their relationship with each other (that’s the common pattern for this kind of story) can be a great way to demonstrate your skills. Because when they work, these scripts can deliver a ton of resonance and meaning, no matter the genre.

But if that’s the kind of story you’re writing, you may be struggling to manage everything you’ve set into motion. After all, it’s a lot of character arc to juggle.

And if you have an idea for a dual-protagonist story, you may be overwhelmed by just the idea of trying to plan both character arcs.

So, before you bail on your brilliant two-hander, let’s look at how you can make it work.

When you’re writing dual character arcs, where do you even start?

A couple weeks ago I offered some prompts you can use to think through a character’s arc:

  • What are the starting and ending points of the character’s arc?
  • How does this plot situation cause the character to transform in that way?
  • What must be deconstructed? What must be reconstructed?

When you’re working with dual protagonists and each needs to arc? You guessed it – use these prompts for both characters. Think each arc through on its own so that each one is a complete arc unto itself.

And then we’ll add one more prompt:

  • Where and how do their arcs intersect?

That’s not a requirement to make this kind of story work, but it tends to add a sense of cohesiveness to the script. If the arcs inform each other then it feels like the characters aren’t living (and transforming) in a vacuum. They’re going through the journey together, or at least in tandem.

Plus, if the characters are going to come together in the end (whether romantically or otherwise), it only makes sense to track how they’re bouncing off of each other along the way. So we’re tracking the change in their relationship, as well as their individual transformations.

Character arcs in The Getaway

For our case study today we’ll use The Getawaywritten by Mario Kyprianou & Becky Leigh – a bawdy comedy that makes juggling two protagonists and their character arcs look easy.

I encourage you to read the script and think through how it all works, and then come back to compare your notes to mine. But if you’re too excited to wait, then here we go! Also – spoiler alert from here on. (And fair warning: there’s plenty of adult humor in this script.)

Story overview

The logline: “A couple on the brink of divorce sets off on a romantic getaway to save their marriage, but when they find that they have inexplicably traveled back in time, they decide to team up to stop their younger selves from ever getting married.”

The way this story works, the two main characters think they need to change their circumstances/lives (by changing the past) in order to be happy. (That informs their story goal and the Act 2 Adventure.) But they learn that what they need to change is themselves. (That informs their character arcs.)

Great. That gives us nice external and internal conflicts to track. They’re taking action to address the external, but growing from the internal. And eventually that transformation will cause them to re-evaluate the external.

Ellie’s character arc

Let’s take Ellie first. Thinking about those prompts from earlier:

  • Ellie starts the script as someone who is stuck on the past, on how things used to be, and she’s unhappy with the way they are now. By the end of the story she is someone who knows that things may not go the way you expect but you can find happiness if you stay present.
  • The events and experiences in this story cause that transformation by revealing new information (about why her husband never supported her dreams), and offering new perspective on who she actually was 25 years ago (more awesome than she knew), and her own flawed behavior. Specifically, she realizes she went along with Jon’s dreams and let her own fall by the wayside because she was afraid of the unknown, of what her future would bring.
  • So it’s a deconstruction of why she’s unhappy with the present state of her life and relationship, and a reconstruction based on reality rather than her previous misinterpretation.

Jon’s character arc

For Jon:

  • He starts the story as someone who lets opportunities pass him by. He never feels ready. And he still regrets missing his chance to pitch an Amazon-esque business idea 25 years ago. When the story ends, he is someone who understands his own part in his “failure” (he was always too hard on himself), and that he actually has what he always wanted (Ellie).
  • The events and experiences in this story cause that transformation by revealing new information (that Ellie only pushed him because she believed in him), and offering new perspective on the kind of partner Ellie needed him to be (supportive rather than protective).
  • Though the specifics are different, the underlying ideas of both characters’ arcs are pretty much the same: a deconstruction of why he’s unhappy with the present state of his life and relationship, and reconstruction based on reality rather than previous misinterpretation.

Where do the character arcs intersect?

Learning the real meaning behind Jon’s past actions and words helps Ellie understand her own part in not going after her dreams, and vice versa. So they grow individually from these interactions, as we covered above.

But these key moments also serve to show how much the other truly loved/loves them, which turns their desire to wanting to save their relationship rather than move on from it.

Basically, at the beginning of the script they’re each blaming the other for their unhappiness. But as they grow individually, they’re able to see that the other’s actions and words came from a positive place, rather than negative, and they’re reminded of how much they like each other and how much love there was (and could still be) between them.

Look for the moments

There are some big, wild comedy set pieces in this script, but even with all of that going on, the script manages to build two complete character arcs and show us the evolution of the characters’ relationship. It can be done!

If you’re building dual character arcs in your own story, start with the prompts provided. Think through each character’s arc individually, and then don’t forget to consider where those arcs intersect. Look for the moments (both big and small) where we’ll see the incremental change.

WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT GET NOTICED AND OPEN DOORS

Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.

Subscribe