Screenwriting : Character identity by Tony McFadden

Tony McFadden

Character identity

I'm pretty sure I know what the consensus will be on this (and it means another re-write), but can all you helpful folks answer me this?

One of my screenplays introduces a character at the end of Act 1 who is the protagonist, travelling from the future to help herself. Her identity is hidden from the protagonist and the viewer (hiding in shadows, wearing hoodies, that sort of thing). I don't identify her until the beginning of Act 3, instead calling her "Woman".

But since the movie viewer won't know who she is until Act 3, and it's unlikely the movie viewer will read the screenplay, I should just identify her as "Future Detective Collins", or something along those lines, right?

Adam Harper

Hi Tony, my understanding is that if you don't want the viewer to know their identity until the third act then the reader shouldn't know either.

Dan MaxXx

Study and steal off scripts similar to yours.

Look at "Chinatown." Jake spies on a mysterious girl and he learns in last act the girl is the daughter/sister of a whacky woman.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hi, Tony. Yeah, I concur with Adam and Dan M. Do seek out scripts that may have a similar element to yours. See how others handled it on the page. Perhaps look at Looper. Same protag character but from two different time periods, present and future—Joe and Old Joe. But from what you describe I would just use "Woman" or maybe add some adjective to further identify her. In Black Swan the protag keeps seeing a woman who looks just like her. Is she seeing things? Or is this person real? In the script, this vision is called "the double," although her double never speaks, I believe? My two cents: If there is an intended surprise to it, a twist, some big reveal, then I would create that same experience for your reader and keep the identity hidden. But... whatever you do, be consistent. Be clear. ;) Hope that helps!

Chad Stroman

I echo what people say above but I would make sure to identify said "hidden/mysterious" character as something other than WOMAN. You need to identify her as someone other than a simple extra or any other woman. Then use that identification throughout the script so the reader knows it's the same person OR at least hint it's the same person. Like "MYSTERIOUS FIGURE" if you want it to be gender neutral.

Two examples (that both happen to be Clint Eastwood movies) are in "Blood Work" by Brian Helgeland" and in "In the Line of Fire" by Jeff Maguire . The killer shows up quite a bit in both. I don't have access to "In the Line of Fire" but did find "Blood Work" here:

Here is a sequence that demonstrates this:

McCaleb scans the sea of humanity before him. Not

exactly its best face. With a sigh, McCaleb starts to

make his way through, then stops short. Ahead:


Seen for an instant. Wearing a hooded sweatshirt and

low-billed cap. Staring at McCaleb, an odd look in his



A beat before McCaleb looks downward. THROUGH a thicket

of legs, we spot his feet. Covering them are bloody

Converse hi-tops. Chuck Taylor. McCaleb looks over, but

the cops seem suddenly so far away. Hi-Top begins to

drift back.


(toward cops)

Hey... Hey! Over here!

Hi-Top turns and goes, suddenly swallowed up by the


A whole chase ensues where the person is only referred to as "Hi-Top".

Chad Stroman

Also from the same screenplay there is a later viewing of a surveillance tape:

As Gloria hands a dollar bill over, a man in a black ski

mask and black jumpsuit moves up behind Gloria.

She’s still smiling as ski mask puts his right hand on

her right shoulder and in one continuous move brings the

muzzle of a handgun up to her left temple.

Without hesitation, he pulls the trigger.



McCaleb grimaces as bloody mist jettisons from the wound.

Ski mask holds her up as a shield, then raises his left

hand to FIRE a ROUND into Mr. Kang. Kang vainly grapples

for a hold on the counter like a man going over a cliff.

Ski mask lowers Gloria’s body to the floor. Her head

drops out of sight.

Ski mask steps up as Mr. Kang pulls a revolver from under

some papers bags. Ski mask shoots him in the face.

Ski mask scoops the cash from the register, then picks up

something off Mr. Kang’s arm. He then reaches for

something on the floor.

He just refers to the killer as "Ski mask". He doesn't even introduce him as a character with all CAPS, etc.

Here's another video later. Again he refers to him as simply "Ski mask" but notice the tie-in:

She hits play and James Cordell’s brains are blown out.

He falls away to reveal the same shooter. Ski mask and

black jumpsuit aside, it’s him. As he reaches for the

cash in the slot, he mouths something. McCaleb freezes


Beth Fox Heisinger

Another two cents: Reading your post again, Tony, I think you're probably just fine with "Woman" or "The Woman." Let the action/context communicate that this person is mysterious, hiding, etc. How she's behaving; what she's doing. If you choose to label her some other way, I would just stress not to label this character too 'on the nose,' like "Mysterious Woman" or something along those lines. Clothing, as Chad's above examples show, can certainly be effective. If she is from the future, then you could use age to help define her—the protag's older self, as like Looper. ;)

Chad Stroman

After reading my previous posts and Beth's I need to probably adjust my advice. Beth is right. You don't want to make it too "on the nose".

Tony McFadden

Thanks for all the advice. Pretty consistent, AND, avoids me needing to do a re-write (which is a win!)

Tony McFadden

The screenplay referenced above is on my profile page --> Killing Time

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