Remember back to what you were thinking during There Will Be Blood just after the well has exploded and taken HW’s hearing with it. If you’re anything like me, you felt it was an even toss-up whether or not Daniel Plainview ended up a rich and successful man.
How about The Matrix just after the Oracle tells Neo he’s not The One. Didn’t you believe her as much as he did?
In Misery, when the drugged wine spilled, weren’t you sure that Annie was going to manage to keep Paul Sheldon prisoner forever.
All great movies make you doubt whether their protagonist will achieve her goals by the time the credits roll.
It is fine for us to take this as a fact about great movies but, how do they pull off this feat? If the audience already knows how things are going to end up, is there any way in which they can actually be in suspense?
I think the answer to these questions is positive whenever a writer chooses the right protagonist. By definition then: The Right Protagonist is a character who inspires nearly everyone in the audience to believe, equally, in her success and her failure.
The Right Protagonist: contains an inherent contradiction between her agency and her motivation to fulfill her need.
The higher the likelihood that she has the skills she needs to fix the problem in her story, the less likelihood there should be that she has the motivation to fix the problem in her story. The converse is also true: the less likely it is that she has the skills she needs, the higher the likelihood she has the motivation she needs. It is this imbalance between skillset, and motivation to fix a problem, that allows an ordinary protagonist to leave her story chrysalis as The Right Protagonist.
Algorithm 2 (Choosing the Right Protagonist)
1. Make your protagonist ride a Story Wave.
2. Think of this Story Wave as a sum of positive and negative events.
3. Have your protagonist strive to convince the audience of the Twin Goals.
4. Imbue her with an inherent contradiction between her agency and her need.