Character Introductions: Crystallizing A Memorable Character

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Character Introductions: Crystallizing A Memorable Character

Writing an effective character introduction is a tricky thing to wrangle for screenwriters at every level of the field. But there is a progression that tends to happen, which may shed some light on the subject.

Newer screenwriters tend to either give no character introduction at all apart from a name and age, OR to give too much of a character introduction, with three sentences about the character’s internal life and personal backstory.

It may seem like the ideal character introduction is a sharp one-liner, something like, “GAVIN (30s), a paper tiger in a cheap suit.” But if that’s the focus when you sit down to write the introduction of your character, there’s already an issue.

First impressions are critically important, of course. Just like in real life, when we see a new person, we make an immediate mental judgement on that person, based on how they look, what they’re wearing, how they walk, etc.

But one strong action by that person can immediately dispel all that. Actions are more important than appearances. Focusing on what a character happens to be doing when they are introduced, as opposed to how the sentence introducing them is written, is the key emphasis here.

No matter how James Cameron might have written the physical words on the page regarding the Terminator’s introduction, the action of that introduction is what informs the audience of the character.

The Terminator shows up, nude, and then kills two people and takes a third man’s clothing. This is a killing machine from a different world, plain and simple. One of the counter-intuitive things about screenwriting is that it gives screenwriters the gift of the page, but the written words on the page will never matter as much as their literal content.

In other words, “THE TERMINATOR (30s), a robotic killer from another world” is never going to be as effective a character introduction as writing out the scene where the Terminator SHOWS that he’s a robotic killer from another world.

This simple distinction is easy to lose sight of, and can result in characters who disappear into the crowd, vs. characters who demand the audience’s attention through their behavior from the second they show up onscreen.

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