Introducing a Character

Everything in your screenplay should be interesting and there’s nothing more crucial than introducing a character. Major characters should always be introduced in a unique way to make it memorable, but you don’t want to do something silly for the sake of being silly. In too many romantic comedies, it’s a cliche for couples to “meet cute.” That means they meet in an unrealistic and silly way that makes everyone want to throw popcorn at the screen and give up the movie in disgust.

What you really want are memorable ways that highlight that character somehow. One way to do that is through Action. In the beginning of “Rocky,” we see Rocky but don’t know or care about him. Only when Rocky’s opponent head butts him illegally that gets Rocky mad do we suddenly care because we see how the other boxer was trying to cheat. Now we see Rocky’s dominant characteristic, which is determination, rise to the surface. From that point on, we see Rocky as a persistent character.

Besides showing a character in Action, another way to introduce a character is through dialogue. This lets us see and hear how the character is through their way of speech. In “Die Hard,” we see the hero in an airplane, fearful of flying. When a fellow passenger tells him how to relax, we see that the hero is a friendly guy. When the passenger sees that the hero has a gun, the hero makes a joke about it to put the passenger at ease and also show us the hero’s sense of humor, which will come into play later in the story.

A third technique is to let other characters talk about a character before we finally meet that person. In “Pulp Fiction,” the two hit men are chatting about fast food burgers in Europe when they talk about their boss who had a man thrown out a window for getting too friendly with his wife. Before we even get to know this character, we already have an idea that he’s powerful with a short temper. This creates anticipation for when we finally do meet him to see if that character meets our expectations.

So the three ways to introduce a character are:

  • Action
  • Dialogue
  • Through the eyes of other characters

Make the introduction of your character memorable, interesting, and above all relevant. In “Die Hard,” the hero is a wise cracker and he maintains that attitude throughout because it’s important for him to taunt the villain. It’s pointless to make a character memorable when we first see that character, and then never use that memorable characteristic ever again.

Think of your favorite movie and notice how you’re introduced to the main characters. It may be through Action (think of the opening of every James Bond movie), Dialogue (think of how we learn about the two hit men in “Pulp Fiction”) or through the eyes of other characters (think of how we learn about the hero in “Citizen Kane”). Whatever you do, don’t introduce your character in a boring way and don’t do it in an irrelevant way that’s just plain silly for the sake of catching our attention. Make it integral to the character’s personality so the introduction serves two purposes: introducing us to the character and showing us the most dominant characteristic of that character.

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