Reader Question: What about introducing the ‘hero’?

On the importance of introducing the story’s Protagonist in a memorable way.

A question via email from Jeff Wild:

Have you already done a topic/thread on the Hero’s Entrance? I feel like in a lot of movies, the hero isn’t introduced doing or saying anything that great… How often do you think this happens? Maybe we could compile a list of movies, and how their hero is introduced… Good and bad.

Maybe you’ve already done this too…

The reason I thought about it was because I saw “Eight Legged Freaks” on TV yesterday and when it introduces David Arquette — he’s just sleeping on a bus. And I thought, that’s kind of a boring way to meet this guy.

Obviously much of how a writer chooses to introduce their ‘hero’ character depends upon the type of story they’re telling. If the Protagonist is an Indiana Jones or Lara Croft type, who is almost super-human, then it probably makes sense to start the script with a sequence in which the heroine does some astonishing, active, and cool things.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a transformation story, one in which the Protagonist begins in one psychological-state and by FADE OUT has evolved into a different psychological-state, then perhaps it’s best to introduce the lead character in a way that reflects their initial state of disunity.

Look at it this way: In an ideal transformation story, I — as the writer — want to take my Protagonist across the greatest possible distance, psychologically speaking, thereby, making the journey that much more compelling and the experience of winning the Final Struggle emotionally satisfying.

So, if we were to look at that transformation story going from Starting Point A to Ending Point Z, why would I choose to begin the story at Starting Point E or Starting Point L? Isn’t it — at least in theory — better to initiate the Protagonist’s transformation-journey as far away as possible from their terminus point?

The introduction of Joseph Hallenbeck in Shane Black’s script The Last Boy Scout is a terrific example of depicting the Protagonist in their Disunity state:

We SUPERIMPOSE the legend:

Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at
sea. Welcome to another lackluster morning in Southern
California. Palm trees limp. Windless silence. 80
degrees at 8:00 AM.
CAMERA CRANES DOWN PAST a huge, rotting billboard. On
the billboard, a girl in tight jeans. Grabbing her own
butt. A surprised look on her face. Yes, honey, that's
your butt.
MOVE IN ON a tiny, weather-beaten bungalow. In the
shadow of the 405 Freeway. A shingle hangs from a
On the lawn, a late-model Plymouth.
The sprinklers come to life. Fling water across the car.
Inside the car, a lone man is asleep, arms akimbo.
Sprawled across the seat. Half-empty bottle of Seagrams
V.O. RADIO on, playing tinny JAZZ music.
Picture the  tiredest, meanest, grouchiest son of a bitch
self-hating loser you can.
Now give him  a two-year-old suit from C & R Clothing.
Such is the aforementioned HALLENBECK.
THREE neighborhood KIDS have gathered around the car.
Enjoying the spectacle of a sleeping drunk.
One tosses a baseball from hand to hand. One picks his
KID #1
Dude's trashed.
KID #2
Shit, we should do something to
Kid #3 continues mining for nose eggs. It looks like his
entire fist is up there. Pause, then:
KID #3
I know where there's a dead
with a tail sticking out.
The youngest Kid holds it aloft reverently.
Looks in the open car window at Hallenbeck.
Still snoozing. Dead to the world.
KID #1
Do it.
They heave the squirrel into the car and run away.
A pause. Another pause. The sprinkler goes round.
Nothing happens.
Hallenbeck snores. The mashed squirrel perches on his
chest. A shadow falls across him as --
return, scratching their heads.   Staring in at him.
KID #2
Goddamn. Dude's trashed.
KID #3
Take his bottle.
Kid #1 smiles nervously. Reaches in with infinite
Trembling hand inches closer and closer --
And closes on the bottle as, without warning --
sits bolt upright and grabs the Kid and stuffs a .38
revolver in the Kid's face and cocks it.
Hey, motherfucker.
The Kid, of course, shrieks.
And the light of sanity dawns in Hallenbeck's eyes.
He sucks in a deep breath. Releases the struggling Kid.
Swears under his breath. Watches the boys flee in
terror. Notices a dead squirrel in his lap. Scowls.
Heaves it out the window. Pumps a Camel into his mouth.
Lights it. Rescues the bottle of Seagrams.
Thus begins his morning.
He opens the car door. The sprinkler douses him.
He gets out. Stands on the lawn.
One of the Kids, the toughest one, is standing on the
KID #3
I'm not scared.
Hallenbeck scowls.
You're on my property, kid.
KID #3
Sidewalk belongs to the
Hallenbeck stares at him.   Smiles weakly.
Excuse me.
He leans over and vomits on the lawn.
One hand gripping the car fender.
The sprinkler goes round and round.
Hallenbeck meets squirrel.

Bruce Willis later played the role of Hallenbeck — perfect casting. But note here how ‘down’ Black starts Hallenbeck in his character’s introduction:

  • He lives in a “weather-beaten bungalow” in the “shadow of the 405 Freeway”
  • He owns a “late-model Plymouth”
  • He is asleep and drunk in his car
  • He is “the tiredest, meanest, grouchiest son of a bitch self-hating loser” we can imagine
  • Local kids make fun of him by tossing a dead squirrel onto his body
  • He pulls a gun on one of the kids
  • He smokes and drinks
  • The sprinkler “douses him”
  • He doesn’t even have the juice to scare the kids
  • He “vomits on the lawn”

Obviously a character with some major flaws. In other words Starting Point A… with a long way to go to get to Ending Point Z.

Per your other thought, I invite GITS readers to post some ‘hero’ introductions — good ones and bad ones.

But the takeaway: If you’re dealing with a transformation story, more than likely, your best approach is to introduce the Protagonist in a way that highlights their Disunity.

Oh, yeah. Whatever you do, make your hero’s introduction memorable.

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