Why Agents and Producers Aren’t Reading Your Screenplay / Formatting – Characters

Conventionally, the first time you mention a character, their name should be written in capitals but any subsequent mentions should not be capitalized.

There are no hard and fast rules dictating how to introduce a major character but here are a few guidelines:

  1. Avoid over detailing a characters physical appearance. Unless knowing a character is wearing blue jeans, a purple sweater, has green eyes, is six foot tall, and has an Irish mother, is pivotal information central to the plot, these details are fairly useless.

  2. Do however; tell us about your character’s personality, attitudes, or flaws. An essence statement such as “Never saw a donut he didn’t like” paints a more vivid picture of a person that just describing them as “overweight”.

  3. Also show us your characters personality through action. A reader is more likely to make their mind up about a character by the words they say and the way they behave, than the intro you write. An effective one-sentence description is very useful, but also carefully decide where we first meet your character and what action they are doing that also displays the essence of this person.

  4. Always try to indicate a characters age. The formatting is personal preference here, but generally speaking, use whatever takes up less space.

  1. Avoid androgynous names. Lee, Sam, Jamie and Taylor are all nice names, but they don’t immediately tell the reader that gender the character is.

  2. Avoid names that sound the same. Having Shaun, Sharon, Shirley and Sheila in your script runs the risk of tripping up the reader. Make sure your character names aren’t easily confused with one another.

  3. Use names consistently. Don’t introduce David to us but then have all the other characters refer to him as Dave. Similarly, don’t introduce Mr. Thomas in the scene description but then use Charles when he has dialogue. If you decide to change a characters name half way through writing the script, make sure to go back and change all previous instances so there isn’t a random name popping up at any point.

  4. Similarly, try not to change a characters name during the story:

Simply introduce a character with the name you intend to call them from the start.

  1. Give secondary characters a descriptive name in order to paint a more vivid picture of them. What works better here for example?

  1. Avoid causing confusion by being specific. If there are three men in a room having a conversation and you have this in the scene description:

Make sure we know which “he” you are referring too.

  1. And absolutely don’t detail any background information about a character that we can’t see on screen. The audience isn’t reading your script, they’re watching it, so these details will be completely lost on them.