Notes From a Screenreader: The Likability Trap


Photo via Go Into the Story.

Protagonists need a bigger than life personality. Most spec scripts have protagonists without one. The average protagonist is unobjectionable. They color inside the lines and find a way to get what they want without breaking any rules.

That is the likability trap. In an effort to create a sympathetic protagonist, spec writers often overlook the key principle that interesting is more important than likable.

  • Put the flaw to work. A real flaw has big consequences that make the protag’s life a constant impending disaster. An addiction, a phobia, a sin that doesn’t stop at venal. Matching this flaw to your tone creates a relatable, sympathetic, interesting protag.
  • Nice is not compelling. Nice is a compromise, a state of social cooperation. There is not a lot of story in nice. Readers will get behind a protag who takes the gloves off when it’s time.
  • Change is hard. Stories are about things that have to change, basically. Tyrants must be toppled, injustice must be rectified, the downtrodden must climb up, etc. Matching the interior change to the exterior change creates a protag that resonates with the reader.


Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.



nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

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