Character names are important because they define who that person is. Luke Skywalker sounds far more descriptive than Luke Smith. The basic rule for creating character names is to avoid names that sound too similar such as Sam, Sue, and Sal. You want distinctive names to make it easy to tell who’s talking at any given time.
Don’t just use any random name for your characters but use descriptive names instead. In “Witness,” the hero’s name is John Book, presumably because he goes by the book in catching criminals.
In today’s world of computers, search and replace makes it easy to experiment with different names because you can quickly replace one name with another by letting your computer do all the work for you.
So one technique is to avoid using names altogether and simply identify each character by their purpose.
For example, if one character is meant to represent fear, simply call that character FEAR in your screenplay until you can think of a final name. By using blatant names that describe different characters, you can easily define each character’s dialogue.
If a character were simply named JOHN, it’s easy to write bland, generic dialogue. Rename this characters as FEAR or SCARED and now you know this character’s dominant trait that needs to be revealed at all times in dialogue.
A character named JOHN might respond one way, but if this character’s dominant character trait is fear, then temporarily naming him FEAR helps you realize every dialogue this character speaks needs to hint of the character’s fearful nature. Once you get the character’s dialogue down, then you can freely go back and change the character’s name to something besides FEAR.
This simple technique of identifying characters by their dominant trait will help you describe their actions and write their dialogue consistently in a way that’s distinctive from bland, generic action and dialogue. Just this subtle difference can make your screenplay sharper and more focused.