Good character introduction is an important ingredient in a screenplay. In strong scripts, lead characters are often introduced in some way that is relatable to the reader.
For screenplays, it’s important to keep the reader in mind, especially if you intend to sell your screenplay or use it as a sample to get an agent.
So, your actual style of writing has to appeal to professional script readers or an executive assistant, who are paid to read 50 scripts a day.
Keep it short and sweet. You probably have read a pro script like Saving Private Ryan and think you should do something similar —
There are 2 sins committed in this description 👉
The description is a 6-line paragraph. It’s a block of text piledontopofeachother.
😭Remember, your reader is likely a professional reader who is forced to read 50 scripts a day.
You’re not doing anyone a favor by making it uninviting to continue reading your screenplay.
If you introduce your main character like this and the author’s name is not Steven Spielberg, you will likely end up in the slush pile.
Second, this description commits the orphan sin (one word lines) with “kid”. It’s a minor thing but sticks out as not making use of white space. Read about orphan sins from fonts.com. This could easily be fixed if the sentence could be written as —
“You can’t help but love him.” Period.
Yes, it’s a bit snobbish to be that picky. But then again, why would an intern bother to continue reading your script, when there are 50 other screenwriters who take time to fix orphan lines?
Instead of a six or seven line introduction, consider something like this to introduce your main character (or any character). But especially in the first 10 pages.
This one was written in the spec script Draft Day (page 2):
There’s no physical description. No emojis. No emotion. Just a 40 year old guy in an unremarkable apartment, listening intently to a radio show host slamming the Buffalo Bills GM named Sonny Weaver Junior (who is the main character introduced here).
In just 3 lines, you get a good sense of who Sonny Weaver is in the context of this scene. He’s a down and out GM of the Buffalo Bills, who’s likely not doing well with the team.
Hence, his fan base (the radio host and his listeners) are slamming him on a sports radio.
And this is why the writer Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rotman made the 2012 Blacklist and sold their screenplay:
The movie starred Kevin Costner and grossed about $30 million in sales worldwide.
When you’re an established screenwriter, write whatever you want.
But if you’re a new screenwriter, keep your descriptions short. Use the white space and make it easy for a script reader, intern or executive assistant to keep reading and get to the good stuff.
In other words 👉👉👉
An introduction sometimes serves to add memorability and likeability to a character. Or, to create the opposite effect.
How characters are introduced builds up a first impression on the audience.
This perception can last the entirety of the screenplay, and sequels, so one needs to get it right.
Character introduction can set the mood of the story, and hint to viewers what to expect. It also lets the reader in on who will be important to the plot.
Here are 3 ways to make your character intros memorable:
Without needing to speak, the viewers can decide what kind of a character they’re looking at based on first appearance.
It can become clear what role the character will play in the film while hinting at other important minor details.
In the first Star Wars film, i.e. A New Hope, we see a fight between stormtroopers and rebellion forces. The brief laser battle opening scene ends with some of the rebels dead.
At this point, Darth Vader steps into view.
Here’s what it looks like on paper:
Not the prettiest to read on paper. It could have been written in a more succinct way…
“Standing at seven feet, DARTH VADER makes his way into the passageway. His face is obscured by a grotesque breath mask and flowing black robes, gliding past the dead corpses.”
… you’d still get the effect that this dude is not someone to mess with. Remember 👉
Less clutter and more white space is better.
And this is how it played on screen:
Checking on a fallen colleague, one stormtrooper hurries out of his way. He stands in awe, watching him all through as he passes. Two more rush either sides of the door, signaling his majestic entrance.
We get a feel of his authority and power from how his soldiers act around him. With more marching behind him, guns in hand, the viewers instantly feel he is unlike the rest.
That also plays out in the way he dresses. The Sith Lord is drenched in darkness.
His all-black armor stands out sharply against the crowd of white-clad stormtroopers around him.
This distinctive color sets him apart, possibly implying his position in the hierarchy.
He stops at the place of the fight scene to assess the situation and we see him towering over his minions, literally. He is a lot taller than everyone else around him, which can be understood as a metaphor for how powerful he is.
Some labored breathing and a system of lights on his chest also evoke the imagination of the viewers.
It hints to the audience of a possible past tragedy in the life of our antagonist.
That probably has a hand in building the personality we see before us today.
In many films, especially those in the super-hero or sci-fi niche, the villain is often played in black. That is the case in this Star Wars installment.
Darth Vader’s black armor was a figurative pointer at his affliction with the dark side of The Force.
He seems cold-blooded and ruthless, which becomes clearer deeper into the story.
Easily one of the greatest entrances in villain history, it’s no surprise the original Star Wars forever made Darth Vader one of the most infamous antagonists in cinema history.
That’s how you write memorable character intros – with lasers blazing! 🔫🔫🔫
You can also introduce a character through a unique manner of speech. Who you are is often reflected in how you speak. What one says and how it’s said can speak volumes about a person.
There is a lot that people learn about a character simply because of the way they speak.
In the 1980 sequel, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back¸ Yoda’s introduction is an excellent example.
Here’s how it looks on paper:
Introduced as the “creature,” we later learn its name as YODA.
The script is basically about Luke Skywalker going up against Darth Vader, the latter adamant to turn him evil.
Luke Skywalker trains in the Jedi ways under the guidance of Master Yoda.
Here it is on screen:
Speaking like you and me, he does not. Yoda is an important character in the franchise. The first time Luke sees him in The Empire Strikes Back, is on a swampy planet.
Unaware that Yoda is the one he seeks, Skywalker admits to Yoda that he is searching for someone. To which he replies, “Found someone, you have…”
Typically, English and most other languages entail a subject-verb-object arrangement e.g. The boy held the cat. Yoda’s famously unique way of speaking reverses this order i.e. Held the cat, the boy did.
His way of speaking is memorable and unforgettable and serves to more than just endear him to the audience.
Yoda is an alien life form. English is probably not his native or preferred dialect. It is a language he picked up along the way and uses as a means of foreign communication.
Consequently, he is not well versed with the basic conventions of the language. The writer means to show us this from how Yoda speaks.
His unique syntax, which often involves verbs dangling at the end of a sentence, introduces the audience to his extraordinary personality.
He is not like anyone else viewers have encountered in the film so far.
If you took out the names in the script, you could easily tell Luke from Yoda from their diction alone.
Diction. Style of prose. Dialect.
These are just some ways to make a character stand out.
Character introduction this way is effective yet simple at the same time. From our first encounter with the character and what he does, we can learn much about him.
Details like occupation, hobbies, feelings, and passions can surface just by what we see a character do in his first scene.
WALL-E offers a great example of character introduction via actions.
Here’s how it looks on paper:
There’s absolutely no dialogue in the opening scene, just a nostalgic song from the 1950s.
In the opening scene, we are introduced to a robot cleaning up a garbage-filled world.
There’s no one else around him for most of the beginning of the film, he works alone.
The cover of a newspaper he steps over reveals the dire extent of things on the planet.
Here is the intro for the movie:
Working alone, without supervision, we get a sense of who WALL-E is. A hardworking robot, tasked with finding hope against the odds, he never gives up.
He works each day to fulfill what we come to know later, is his job as a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-class robot.
An old TV and a bolo bat are his only companions at the start of the film. The audience gets a sense of the overwhelming loneliness WALL-E deals with every day.
There’s absolutely no other life form around him. Only buildings and huge streets of wasteland and emptiness can be seen within eye reach.
It’s also implied how WALL-E feels from his sad-looking eyes. Hinting at a being battling depression, his drooping eye frames give off the impression of an unhappy life.
Actions tell a story and paint a picture better than all the words in the world ever could.
As a screenwriter, remember who you are writing for — interns, script readers and assistants.
Make their job easier by focusing on proper format. Use white space and create the illusion that your script is easy to read.
Until you’ve sold a screenplay or have a stud literary agent, format and style of prose will matter.
Finally, make your prose memorable. Write your character introductions so they “pop” from the page and would look really cool on cinema. Start by following some of the tips covered in this how-to guide.
Good luck and CONTACT US once you’ve got an awesome movie to produce.
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