We all strive to craft compelling and memorable characters in our spec script. The last thing you want is to do them a disservice with a mediocre introduction. So how do you introduce a character?
It requires some forethought. Introducing a character is your chance to set the tone and understand how that person matters to your story, so you want to be intentional in your writing. Keep reading to learn about how you can introduce a character depending on their purpose in your story.
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How to Introduce Characters in Your Writing
A major character introduction usually includes the basics: character names, age range, and a brief physical description. Minor characters have similar introductions if even necessary, just shorter and with less emphasis. But there are quite a few techniques for setting this stage for your reader. In general, introduce one character at a time, as lists of characters can become hard to track for your reader.
You don't get a second chance to make a first impression
Just like in real life, first impressions are essential! How you introduce your character to the audience can help them decide if they love them, hate them, or don't care about them at all.
Use another character's point of view
Consider how other characters perceive your character. Do they think they're funny, attractive, or weird?
HBO's "Peacemaker" makes a show of other characters' reactions when they meet the eccentric and psychopathic Vigilante character. Other characters' reactions to him tell us both about his character and their characterization as well. It takes a unique group of people to put up with an eager murderer with very black and white morals.
Use action to introduce your character
What is your character doing when you introduce them? Going through their morning routine? Trying to work but getting interrupted? Breaking up a bar fight? Figuring out the action of a character's introduction, playing around with it, and heightening it can lead to a more memorable encounter.
Think Captain Jack Sparrow arriving into port on a sinking ship in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" or Indiana Jones working his way through booby traps to grab the golden idol and escape the temple in "Raiders of The Lost Ark."
Make your character introduce themselves
Placing your character in a situation where they need to introduce themselves can be a natural-seeming way for the audience to get to know them. It's also interesting because it puts pressure on the character to share things about themselves. What does the character share? What do they omit? Letting the audience know that they're leaving things out or outright lying says something about the character and creates curiosity to want to know more about them.
How to Write Character Description
Depending on the story and genre you're writing, character descriptions can range in length and tone. But generally, follow these basic rules for introducing anyone new.
Brevity is your friend
Character descriptions in a screenplay are pretty short. Character descriptions are as simple as writing the NAME, written in all caps, age in parentheses (age), and some character bio—for example, JESSICA JAMES (22), add description here. You can write a little more for complex characters, but don't let it get in the way of your story.
Let the physical speak more
Choose physical descriptions that tell us about nonphysical characteristics. A visual symbol can speak a thousand words. Does your character walk with a noticeable limp that speaks to a past accident or injury? Does your character like to wear many layers and hide their body from the world? Does your character hide behind facial hair? There are many ways to use physical attributes to speak to a character's personality or life journey.
Use the setting to ground your character
The setting you introduce your character in impacts your character's behavior and how we perceive them. Are they comfortable there? Uncomfortable? Have they been there before? Are they confident or nervous? How the setting impacts your character's behavior can clue the audience in on essential details about them.
Great Character Description Examples
Check out these scripts for great character description examples!
- "Training Day," by David Ayer
In "Training Day," the description of Denzel Washington's character, Sergeant Alonzo Harris, speaks a lot about who he is and how others perceive him.
"Training Day" Script Snippet
DETECTIVE SERGEANT ALONZO HARRIS, in black shirt, black leather jacket. And just enough platinum and diamonds to look like somebody. He reads the paper in a booth. The gun leather-tough LAPD vet is a hands-on, blue-collar cop who can kick your ass with a look.
- "10 Things I Hate About You," by Karen McCullah & Kirsten Smith
In “10 Things I Hate About You,” the description of Kat tells us a lot about her.
"10 Things I Hate About You" Script Snippet
KAT STRATFORD, eighteen, pretty -- but trying hard not to be -- in a baggy granny dress and glasses, balances a cup of coffee and a backpack as she climbs out of her battered, baby blue '75 Dodge Dart.
- "Queen and Slim," by Lena Waithe
This script for "Queen and Slim" has straightforward character descriptions that quickly sum up each of the main characters.
"Queen and Slim" Script Snippet
The MAN: has a slender frame and a laid back demeanor. He's not a fan of rocking the boat or ruffling feathers, but he ain't no punk either. For the purpose of this story, we'll call him SLIM.
The WOMAN: She's regal as f***. She's not an easy laugh, and she's always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the purpose of this story, we'll call her QUEEN.
Next time you're ready to introduce a character, remember all of the creative ways you can do it. Try different introduction methods until you find one that gives your characters the entrance they deserve! Happy writing!