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Chapter nine, It's All About The Story
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Chapter Nine

Building the Best Bonding Character for Your Hero

The unlikely pairing 

No matter which character you create first, you'll want to have the best possible Bonding Character for your Hero.

The key to matching up these characters is to work on their unlikeness to each other.

The more unlikely the pairing between the Hero and the Bonding character, the more energy your story idea will have.

The problem with a weak Hero/Bonding Character Dynamic

Girlfight, an appealing movie with a lot of good moments, written and directed by Karyn Kusama, could have been stronger had the two major characters been more unlike each other.

Both are teenagers, both are Hispanic, both are from poor families in the projects, both train at the same gym, both are avid boxers.

Hero (Michelle Rodriguez) and Bonding Character (Jaime Tirelli) in Girlfight.

Two extremely winsome actors anchor this low-budget movie.

If you had been given the assignment, how could you have rewritten the Bonding Character to give the central relationship more bite and drive?

Studio Still
Screen Gems Inc.
(Sony Pictures)

When you create your Bonding Character with too many similarities to the Hero, you encounter writing problems all the way through the script.

If your characters are too much alike, y ou will have to work to create necessary tension, and through the middle part of the movie the energy will sag— all because of the weak dynamic between Hero and Bonding Character.

The time to make sure your screenplay will have drama and energy is at the beginning when you are laying out the major characters.

Might be a good idea to rent Girlfight and see how you think you could have written it better.

Challenges and benefits of the unlikely pairing

The more unlikely the pairing, the more energy, creativity and skill you will need to expend to create the Bonding Event to bring these two unlikely characters together.

On the other hand, you will find it much easier to create conflict and drama between two very unlike characters.

Contrast the pairing in Girlfight with the pairing in the Tom Clancy spy thriller The Sum of All Fears:

Bonding Character William Cabo (Morgan Freeman) showing Hero Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) the ropes at the CIA.

Try counting how many ways these two characters are unlike each other. About the only similarity is that they are both male CIA agents.

Studio Still Paramount Pictures

In this movie although both characters are employed by the CIA, the Hero is a new recruit, and the Bonding Character a seasoned veteran. They come from unlike backgrounds, and have unlike attitudes.

The Road to Perdition tells a gripping story using a Hero (Tyler Hoechlin) who Bonds with his own father (Tom Hanks).

Although they are father and son, the characters are profoundly unlike each other; the son, innocent, honest, and naïve, the father steeped in the sins of criminality.

The Hero (Tyler Hoechlin), taught by the Bonding Character (Tom Hanks), learns to drive.

Every scene between them vibrates with dramatic energy because of their deep differences, and because of the opposite tension of their love for each other.

Studio Still
20th Century Fox

Test your creativity at pairing Heroes with Bonding Characters

To illustrate how you might begin to brainstorm about your Hero and Bonding Character, try playing with the pairings from the following lists.

Try to match them up, A’s with B’s.

Just for fun, try inventing Bonding Events for a few pairings.

Although you will find hidden in these lists some pairings from produced movies, bear in mind that there are no "right" answers for you in your screenplay, there are only creative choices that work for you.

If you wish, you can match up the samples that fit produced movies— the answers are in the pop-up menu.

But it is more important for you to imagine which pairings you think are the most dynamic, and how you would invent characters with those basic patterns.


"A" List (both male and female) .................... "B" List (both male and female)....

1. ..A nun..................................................................11. A transsexual
2. ..A Russian male diplomat................................ 12. A condemned male criminal
3. ..An impoverished male artist............................13. A workaholic male corporate analyst
4. ..A shy female computer programmer..............14. A psychotic male serial killer
5. ..A downsized suburban family man.................15. A married teacher, mother of three
6. ..A male ghost.....................................................16. A tough female street cop
7. ..An aggressive female FBI trainee..................17. A ruthless upscale hit man
8. ..A street smart hooker.......................................18. A high school cheerleader
9. ..A male talk show host......................................19. A bogus female psychic
10. An ambitious female secretary........................20. A squeegee girl

Learn to understand the dynamic between the Hero/Bonding Character and the Bonding Event The relationship between the Hero and the Bonding Character is the human core of most movies. Spend as much time as you possibly can on this part of the process.

The event you use to bond your Hero to the Bonding Character will determine the plot of your story. And that’s a good thing, because the plot automatically becomes the right one for your characters.

Some examples follow to help you understand the dynamic of the Hero, the Bonding Character and The Bonding Event:

Okay, to start with how about pairing up an unshaven, drinking and smoking tramp steamer captain, and a prissy and proper missionary spinster?

Is that different enough for your Hero and your Bonding character?

It was good enough for Hollywood, and the film they made from it was good enough to rank #17 in the American Film Institute's Top 100.

The African Queen

Humphrey Bogart
and Katharine Hepburn
( Bonding Character)

An unlikely pair of river rats in the1951 UA movie.

The question is how did the writers of the novel and the screenplay get these two characters together, given how unlike each other they appear to be?

Image courtesy

How did the writers create their magic?

They used the villains of the piece -- German soldiers who burn the village in which Rose (Hepburn) and her brother have established a mission. In the course of the altercation that occurs, they injure Rose's brother, which leads to his physical and mental breakdown and subsequent death.

When Charlie Allnut (Bogart) returns, Rose, angry, determined, and seeking revenge, persuades him, for the good of his country, to embark on a scheme to turn the African Queen into a floating torpedo and blow up the German ship that controls this section of Africa.

Notice that the Hero and the Bonding Character are virtually welded together by the Opposing Force of the movie, the "enemy."

What are the best kinds of differences for your characters?

The ways in which characters can be unlike is obviously unique to each pairing a writer creates.
But I'll suggest some general aspects to look at:


It's typical of Romantic Comedies that the Hero and Bonding Character are opposite sexes, and it's typical of "Buddy" movies that they are the same sex, but it's not a law. Sometimes switching the typical genders is exactly the right thing to do.

Look at Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, and Charlie's Angels, action pictures that switched the usual male action hero from a man to a female. Consider what are the best genders for your Hero and Bonding Character.


Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears makes thorough use of this aspect to explore the unlikeness of the Hero, Jack Ryan, and the Bonding Character, William Cabot.

Because people's outlook, attitudes, interests, capabilities, and personalities change with age, writers are prone to use age as one of the unlike qualities that distinguish Hero and Bonding Character.

Ethnic Origin/Racial Difference

Although we note this difference nowadays as an outgrowth of the increasing tolerance of our democratic society, it's been a staple of drama for centuries, even farther back than Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice or Euripides Medea.


In Changing Lanes Gavin Banek, the Hero, played by Ben Affleck, and Doyle Gipson, the Bonding Character, played by Samuel L. Jackson, carry on their struggle with little mention of the fact that one is white and one black, but visually their unlikeness in this respect is a powerful reminder of how different their life-attitudes are.



Studio Still
Paramount Pictures

Socioeconomic Status

This is the "rich man, poor man" or "prince and the pauper" syndrome. Although in the movies, it more often tends to be "rich girl, poor man" or vice-versa.

The Romantic Comedy, Pretty Woman, written by J.F.Lawton is the quintessential modern Cinderella story. Click here for interesting review.

Pretty Woman pairs up a nearly penniless Hero, played by Julia Roberts, with Richard Gere's Bonding Character, a multi million dollar investment banker with a ton of psychological damage and a neat case of acrophobia.

You don't need to stick with this model. Mix up the genders or ages however you like, and go for it.

Studio Still
Buena Vista Pictures


Political Orientation

Opposed political beliefs can provide an emotionally charged atmosphere for drama, comedy, or tragedy.

One of my favorite oldies is The Way We Were, which uses the liberal/conservative, left/right polarity as its central difference between the Hero and Bonding Character.

This Robert Redford/Barbra Streisand pairing not only gets energy from the political polarity between the characters, but also from their Rich Boy, Poor Girl status.

Written by Arthur Laurents with uncredited story participation by Alvin Sargent, The Way We Were derives its whole punch not from the events but from the differences between the characters. And it also has an edge because this is a movie in which the characters do okay for themselves, but they don't grab the brass ring, and they don't live happily ever after.

Columbia Pictures


Personality/Character Traits

You don't need a degree in psychology to realize that this is the arena in which the battles are fought to determine who is the greatest writer of them all.

It's also the arena where the most fun is.

Shaping the character of your Hero and your Bonding Character will determine the destiny of your movie.

Your first task is to invent their character traits, and your second task is to invent the actions and situations in which your Hero and Bonding Character will say and do things that reveal who they are.

A tall order.

You'll be dealing in strengths and frailties, ethics and temptations, grit and gas, loyalty and perfidy, courage and cowardice, generosity and meanness, honesty and dishonesty, and thousands of others.

Simply put, you'll need to shape the differences in this area with care, because audiences (and Readers) have a radar detector for inconsistency and falseness in character portrayals.

Character portrayal is study all on its own, much too large to cover in detail in the scope of this discussion. In Chapter Eight, I dealt with the audience's need for their hero to have certain personality and character traits, to behave in ways that would maintain their empathy for the Hero, and their identification with him. When you write a screenplay, you're asking the audience, for two hours of their life to "be" your Hero, to share the triumph and tragedy, the exaltation and despair.

Just as you need to know how to make your Hero "please" the audience, you need to create a Bonding Character that makes them yearn for the Hero and Bonding Character to get together at the end of the movie.

At the beginning of the movie their characters ought to be in a state that makes them unworthy of each other. Therefore their characters need to develop, grow, and change, so that at the end of the movie, they deserve a closer relationship.

This is the delicate shift of polarity you need to be deft at portraying throughout your screenplay.

A good movie to study for this effect is Changing Lanes, mentioned above.

I recommend renting the movie to compare who these two people are at the beginning of the movie, and who they are at the end.

When you have done that, try to discern where the changes occurred, where they learned to transform their attitudes, where they learned to see the world in a different light, where they mustered the self-discipline to alter their behavior.

If you can succeed at creating two unlike characters and force them to undergo real character change, you'll have a successful story.

Points to remember

The more unlike the Hero and Bonding Character, the more energy your story will have.

The relationship between the Hero and the Bonding Character is the human core of most movies.

Sometimes switching the typical genders of Hero and/or Bonding Character is exactly the right thing to do.

Differences in ethnic origin or race and in socioeconomic status can energize your Hero/Bonding Character relationship.

Opposed political beliefs can provide an emotionally charged atmosphere for drama, comedy, or tragedy.

At the beginning of the movie the character traits and personality of the Hero and Bonding Character ought to be in a state that makes them unworthy of each other, so that they must grow and change in order to "get together" at the end.

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