Character Type: Advocate

“The Advocate taps into powerful psychological and emotional strains at work in our collective psyche. The hope there are good people out there. Fighters willing to take up our cause. Right can defeat might. Someone who gives voice to our beliefs and aspirations.”

Those of you who have followed my blog for some time or taken courses with me through Screenwriting Master Class know how fascinated I am with character archetypes, specifically how there are five — Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster — which recur in movies over and over and over.

Some might see archetypes as a sort of reductionist approach to writing when in my experience, it is precisely the opposite.

By working with these five Primary Character Archetypes, we can identify the core narrative function of every key character, then use that knowledge as a guide as we build them out in a limitless number of ways.

One approach is to use an extensive array of Character Types available to us. So this month, I am running a series in which we will explore 20 Character Types, and consider how writers can use them to create unique, compelling figures in our stories.

Today: Advocate.

Some of the greatest movie roles have been Advocates. For example, memorable attorneys like Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) in Inherit the Wind (1960), Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in The Verdict (1982), and perhaps the greatest Advocate them all — Atticus Finch played brilliantly by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).

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To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Advocates champion a cause in a public arena such as politics. Notable figures in this area include Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) in Dave (1993), President Andrew Shephered (Michael Douglas) in The American President (1995), and Jefferson Smith in the classic 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

One of the central themes of many Advocate movies is empowerment, speaking up for the powerless. Therefore, it’s no surprise that there are some great Advocate roles featuring women, inspired by the feminist movement, including Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) in Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) in Erin Brockovich (2000), and Norma Rae (Sally Field) in the 1979 movie of the same name.

Norma Rae (1979)

The power of an Advocate character derives not only from their passionate beliefs, but also from oppositional forces, Nemesis figures who are, in fact, advocates for their own cause albeit for personal gain, not the benefit of others. The essential goodness of a Protagonist Advocate is highlighted even more when a Nemesis figure works against them. This is a contrast reflected not only in substance, but also style. Compare Frank Galvin, the rumpled, alcoholic lawyer who rises from his own personal ashes, against his foe Ed Concannon (James Mason), the slick, enormously well-funded, and vicious legal eagle.the

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The Verdict (1982)

The Advocate taps into powerful psychological and emotional strains at work in our collective psyche. The hope there are good people out there. Fighters willing to take up our cause. Right can defeat might. Someone who gives voice to our beliefs and aspirations. In this regard, the Advocate becomes our spokesperson and moral leader. We willingly give ourselves over to their story… because their story is our story.

What brainstorming can you do with an Advocate character type?

The Advocate is a perfect type for a Protagonist: their passion, beliefs and underdog status a natural for a Hero’s Journey. Moreover actors love to play these types of roles, witness all the Oscar winners who played Advocates.

What about Advocates as Mentor figures? Their ability to see through propaganda and conventional wisdom. Or Attractors? Their passion for a cause reflecting their general enthusiasm for life… and love.

But what I think is perhaps most interesting is to embrace the idea noted above: What if you think of your Nemesis figure as an Advocate? The best Antagonists have a world view that makes sense to them. They believe in what they do and, therefore, it is only natural for them to advocate for their own cause. This figures to be an excellent writing exercise: Envisioning your Nemesis as an Advocate.

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