When I first started writing screenplays, I knew I needed interesting, memorable characters for my film (of course!), but I wasn’t sure how to introduce characters in a screenplay yet!
Is it enough to give a name and a short character description?
Do I need to give that character dialogue right away?
And how exactly do I format a character introduction?
I understood that character introductions (for example, for your protagonist and antagonist) are part of action lines in a script, and action lines describe what is happening at a given moment in the story.
More than that, action lines convey the tone and feeling of that specific moment or scene. So they not only describe what you see and hear but, if done well, create in the reader a desire to see what happens next. And character introductions are no different.
I dove into the screenplays of films I loved – from Rocky to Reservoir Dogs, and so many other in between – to see how the greats did it. I quickly learned that there’s much more to a good character introduction than just proper formatting!
5 Tips for How to Introduce Characters in A Screenplay
1. Introduce your characters before giving them dialogue.
Unless a character’s appearance is a mystery, introduce the character before you have them speak! Give the character introduction before the first line of dialogue.
2. Format your character introduction properly.
Each time a new character is introduced, their name should be in all caps. Include some information about their age, personality, or appearance to help paint a mental picture for the reader and guide the casting directors to find an actor that fits the part.
Age can be a specific number (16, 35, etc.), or an age range (20’s, 30’s), and is added in parentheses after the character name. For example, “AIDEN (30’s)”.
Most popular screenwriting software programs will help you format your introduction in a way that aligns with the industry standard.
3. Give an introduction for major characters only.
More minor characters in your film can simply be named in capitals. They don’t need a complete written description in your action line.
Giving a character a sentence or two of introduction tells the reader of your screenplay that this is an essential character in the story.
A typical screenplay may have between four and ten characters who warrant a descriptive character introduction.
A character’s reaction to a given situation says more than their looks alone ever could!Neil Chase
4. Give a meaningful description of the character.
Focus on your character’s personality and the type of person they are rather than just their appearance. Use unique, specific descriptive words when you can. Every entrance should be as memorable as possible, especially for essential characters in your screenplay.
Just as mentioned in an article from studiobinder.com, you might also want to provide a description of the emotional state of your character at the time when we meet them.
Think of the following aspects of a person for your character descriptions:
Personality is an integral part of your description. What kind of person is this? Are they commanding? Meek? Angry? Calm? You can use many descriptors, so be as imaginative as you can. If it helps, think of an actor you would like for the part as a starting point for writing your character description.
But remember not to attach too much to a specific actor in your mind. When your movie is made, you might be surprised when you write a part for one specific actor, only for the director to cast someone you never even considered but who turns out to be perfect for the role and meets your vision better than you could have dreamed!
In your character description, you may want to give some information regarding the situation the characters find themselves in when we first meet them.
This should be something that helps the reader understand more about the character’s personality or motivations within the story.
A character’s reaction to a situation says more than their looks alone ever could.
3. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
Providing physical character descriptions will likely not be the main focus unless the physical attribute is important to the character.
These important characteristics could be their unusual size or a unique physical aspect such as an eye patch, or a cast on their leg.
5. Be brief!
Character introductions should take a few lines at most. Some character introductions go on for paragraphs, but you’ll lose readers that way. Save that for the novel version of your story!
Give a great, short introduction, and then get back to the storyline of your screenplay as quickly as possible. Or better yet, work the character introduction into your story!
How to Introduce Multiple Characters in a Script
When trying to introduce multiple characters in a screenplay for a feature film or short film, it’s essential to find creative ways to distinguish them from one another. You want to introduce each character in an informative and engaging way without making the scene feel overcrowded or confusing.
One common approach is to focus your character descriptions on each character’s essential traits. Another is to introduce them in different settings or through the eyes of other characters. And still another way is to introduce them in relation to other characters—for instance, by showing how they interact with one another.
Another way to think about this is to decide how many characters you want to introduce at a time. You could have each character enter the scene one at a time. This allows you to introduce each character individually and provide basic information about them.
The other option is to have all the characters enter the scene simultaneously. This can be tricky, but it can be effective if done well. You’ll need to ensure that each character stands out in some way and that their introductions are clear and concise.
Whichever approach you choose, the goal is to introduce the characters in a way that makes them memorable and helps the reader understand their unique roles in the story.
With a little creativity, you can introduce multiple characters in an informative and entertaining way.
Introducing Characters in a Script: Examples from Popular Movies
Now that we’ve discussed character introductions, we can analyze a few introductions to well-known movie characters.
Notice how each screenplay writer approaches the character introduction differently to evoke certain moods. Yet, there are many consistencies.
There is only a little physical description, most of which revolves around the character’s personality. It’s very close to evoking the impression you get when you first meet or see someone new. And that’s how you should approach the writing of character introductions too!
Example 1: Darth Vader in Star Wars: A New Hope
Example 2: Achilles in Troy
Example 3: Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs
Conclusion: How to Introduce Characters in Your Screenplay or Script
When introducing characters when you write your screenplay, remember that the readers of your script want to be able to “see” each main character in their minds as they read.
Consider focusing on the personality and motivational aspects of your characters in your character introductions rather than only on the character’s physical appearance.
Use strong and unique descriptive words in your character descriptions, be brief, and let your screenplay characters shine!
Interested in learning more about screenwriting? Check out these helpful articles!