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Screenwriting : Help With a Character Description by Charles Portillo

Charles Portillo

Help With a Character Description

I'm having trouble with a character description. Now she's a minor character only seen once so how much of a description is needed? This is directly lifted from my screenplay and notes from an editor, Thanks in advance!

Tina hangs up -- TINA’S MOM (40) barges in, looking frantic. Tina screams, scared by her mom. Her mom wears a night-robe. SUGGESTION: Put a character description for her.

Is it necessary to add more info?

Rachel Walker

Maybe express her feelings a bit more..."There seemed a dark and far away look in her eyes as if it wasn't her mother.. :-)

Charles Portillo

Thanks Rachel. :) I should put in context. There was a man staring into Tina's bedroom. Her mom came in to see if she was okay. This is cut from Final Draft but of course it's not in screenplay format.

Tina looks at the window, terrified. Frank is gone. She watches the window, thinking he’ll return. All she sees is darkness and light from the streetlight.

Tina wipes her face with her hands and shakes off her fear. She picks up her phone. Emily’s panicked, muffled words come from it.

Tina puts her phone to her ear, watching the window.

EMILY (PHONE) Hello! Tina? What happened?

TINA There was someone right outside my window.

EMILY (PHONE) Who was it?

TINA don’t know. It’s dark, but I can tell it was a man.

EMILY (PHONE) Call the police! Hang up and call the police now!

Tina hangs up -- TINA’S MOM (40) barges in, looking frantic. Tina screams, scared by her mom. Her mom wears a night-robe.

Tiffani Zabor

How does the character of Tina move your plot or story theme forward? what is her primary role? This may help with her description. From the dialogue, it seems like she's young, naive, etc. but what do you want her to look like and is that important to the overall story? Is her race, her hair color, wearing glasses-is any of that vital info the audience should know in order to relate to her or make her more interesting or explain why the man is targeting her? Also, there may be miscellaneous information such as Tina's mom wearing a night robe, does that really matter to your story? if it does keep it but if not get rid of any unnecessary description so the details you do decide to use really stand out. Hope that helps :)

Rachel Walker

Oh yes...everything in context...Tina's mom barges in terrified...:-)

You've got me on the edge of my seat!


Charles Portillo

It's Tina's mom that I need help with. I don't think I need a physical appearance description. Maybe a personality description? I'm just going to leave it how it is. A robe works because it's bed time. I don't think anyone reading it will throw the script out of the window because I didn't add more detail. Thank you!

Charles Portillo

Haha thanks Rachel! That's funny! :)

M L.

Actors love scenes where they get to play with props or wear something unusual. If TIna's mom had a mud mask on or was carrying something ridiculous like a snow shovel to defend herself it could provide all the personality description you need in a very easy short way.

Constance York

TINA'S MOM barges in, pulling the belt on her dingy green robe tight. Her bleached hair is disheveled, and she still wears last night's black eyeliner although it's now a smudged mess. Her feet are bare and as she storms across the room, she steps on a hairbrush and lets out a SCREAM.


Son of a bitch! ! Clean this motherfucking

room Tina!.

Christopher Phillips

In general, minor characters don't get descriptions and usually no proper names. Use a job description like Waitress, Cop, Mechanic. Also, don't give them dialogue unless necessary. A character with dialogue becomes a SAG-AFTRA actor and costs a production more money versus background characters that don't speak and can be paid minimum wage in some states.

I'm assuming this isn't completely non-union.

Charles Portillo

Thanks everyone!

Marcin Klinkosz

Hi Charles,

I dont know what do you have before or after that moment, but you could add a description that would generate more tension. If Tina was sitting in the dark, her mom barging into the room could look in her night-robe just like Frank. (shape of her body in the doorframe) Same body type, night-robe looks just like Franks jacket. That would give Tina reason for scream as she could think the stalker is already inside her house.


TINA’S MOM (40) bursts into the room, she looks frantic. Her silhouette looks in the dark just like the one Tina had just seen in her window. Her night-robe looks like Frank`s jacket. Tina screams, scared by her mother.

Rosalind Winton

Tina hangs up.

Suddenly, the door slams against the wall as TINA’S MOM (40) bursts in, frantic. In the darkness, she appears like the shadow Tina just saw in her window, her night robe looks similar to Frank's jacket.

Tina jumps up, (if she's sitting) or backwards (if she's standing) SCREAMS in fright.

So you can create even more tension by describing more action and sound, just imagine everything she would be seeing and hearing in the moment :)

Charles Portillo

Hi Marcin, very good imagination! Thanks!

Oh yes Rosalind, I can see that now you both mentioned about the door opening and Tina thinking it's Frank. Everyone seems to have great imaginations. I came here looking for a character description and got more than I asked. I like how it can create more tension. Thanks!

Pierre Langenegger

You don't need to respond to, or satisfy, all notes you receive. Looking at what you posted here, it looks fine to me, I don't believe you need more character description for that character.

Dan Guardino

Character descriptions are so they know which actor they need to hire. If someone has a small role you wouldn't need hardly any description because they can hire almost anyone to play the part.

Rosalind Winton

I just realised Charles that it was Marcin that mentioned 'Frank' as an example, for some reason my brain thought you had mentioned Frank to start with lol.

Marcin.. Sorry for stealing your idea.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hi, Charles. I kindly suggest you fine-tune the writing a bit. You do not need “scared by her mom.” It’s redundant. I agree with the note to add more to the mom. Add a little nuance, give a tidbit about the mom’s personality. “Night robe” does not tell us much. Adds nothing. Hmmm, do women even wear such things? Lol! No mother I know, including myself, wears a “night robe.” A favorite T-shirt or sweatshirt is more common, practical. A lot of moms are up at night; that’s when you can get things done, chores, bills, or steal some time for yourself. Anyhoo, instead, use action to give more... Does she burst in with a weapon, a bat? I assume (and expect) she says something as she too may have seen the guy or is aware that something frightening has just happened. How and what she says could add a lot in just one line. How about a name? From your comment above, she does seem like a character that would appear in the script more. Tina’s mom, SARAH (40)... Anyway, adding some short, simple, pithy tidbits may give a better sense of a person. She may be a small part but a “generic mom” doesn’t add to your script. Hope that helps!

Dan Guardino

Charles. Unless her robe has something to do with the plot you don't need to say what she is wearing. Also if you had to say "in a night robe" instead of "wearing a night robe."

Marcin Klinkosz

That`s fine Rosalind. Steal? More boost :-) Whatever helps to make the script better.

Nice brainstorm anyway on the character that appears only once on-screen and how to make her/him add something to the story.

Chad Stroman

I think that's fine but you can make it a bit more interesting with the same verbiage and keep the descriptions in sequence with the character intro. You have the mom being introduced then you focus on Tina, then back to her mom for the bathrobe description.

TINA’S MOM (40) barges in, looking frantic in the bathrobe she lives 24 hours a day in, etc.

Donnalyn Vojta

I agree with Chad. But if the notes ask for more, I'd probably just add an adjective about her physical attributes... Otherwise, I'm not sure what the reader wants.

Doug Nelson

As a reader, I want a quick visual. Chad's is to long. MOM (40) in a raggedy robe.....

Charles Portillo

Hi Beth, well one of hardest things for me is describing a character other than one or two words, funny, quiet, shy, obnoxious, etc.. This is especially hard because she's just seen once. So "TINA'S MOM" is too generic? I'll go with "SARAH". I thought robe was good since she was wearing her underwear to bed (I guess) lol. T-Shirt is better for the visuals so I'll go with that. I agree that screaming again is more redundant. I'll change that. Thanks that helps!

Craig D Griffiths

I fall back on , casting, hair, wardrobe.

So age, race, hair, clothes.

Some of these can be self evident. If there is a teenage girl, her mum is going to 40-50. So I wouldn’t say it.

Mum, fit, short hair, she looks after herself, comes in dressed in a tight robe scaring the crap out of xxxxx

This description give some character insight while describe the visuals. A thin person, versus a thin person that looks after herself.

Doug Nelson

Charles, if she's just a 'walk on' character; all's needed is a visual - something I can see and shoot. How do I shoot her as funny, quiet or shy (she has to act funny, quiet, shy.... I can shoot action.) Keep in mind that the more descriptive of her physical appearance, the shallower yourActor talent pool becomes - an you'll PO the Casting Director.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hi, Charles. You do what you think is best. You are the writer. None of us know the story or the kind of relationship these characters share, nor do we have full context. We’re only making suggestions. I just threw up a name for example. If you read my above comment again, what I’m suggesting is to use action and dialogue and a name, not physical description. However, you say she’s only seen... once? I assumed it would be more given the bit of context you shared. Perhaps no name then? And certainly no need to say anything about what she is wearing or what she looks like, unless it has some relevance, which it seems like it doesn’t here. Add personality, attitude, tone. She barges in... how? She does and says... what? I joked at “night robe” because the only women in my life who might wear one are either grandmothers or if they are staying at some fancy hotel or spa or on vacation. Lol! But, hey, to each their own! Maybe it depends on the robe. ;) Now, considering your characters’ situation, if I realized some weird guy was outside our window I would not take the time to put on some robe (pajamas or t-shirt/sweatpants and sweatshirt are enough, thank you), I’d be in my teen’s room in a heartbeat and on the phone. Anyway, I hope all this helps and I wish you the best with your screenplay. ;)

Charles Portillo

Dan, how about "wears a night-robe"?

Chad, I was wondering about the sequence of character description, then focusing on Action or Dialogue, then back to character description? I'm struggling right now with that part in the opening scene.

Donnalyn, I'm not sure I want to add a physical description. She could be thin, average build, overweight.

Craig, I think it's better to put age rather than leave it blank.

Doug, yeah minimum info is more my style. I'm not doing she's average height and weight. Her hair is straight, parted in the middle. Her teeth are white... etc..I stay away from physical traits unless it's absolutely necessary.

Beth, so I really don't know what to put. Tina's mom is only seen once. Should I just be generic or should I give her a name? Does it matter? Btw, I agree with you about redundancy.

Anyway, thank you for all your help. Sunday night I couldn't open my updated version of the 5-6 hours of the most tedious work I did after I got back my notes. For 3 hours I tried to watching all the tutorials I could and articles about repairing a corrupted script.Then in the morning I got a response from Tech Support from Final Draft who couldn't figure it out either and after sending it to him he told me the file was too corrupt. So now I'm about halfway back to where I was before. I'm telling you this because I'd like to know if this has happened to anyone using Final Draft before? I may change to a different software.

Sometime soon I will post on here that I'm finally finished with my screenplay. I'll reveal the most embarrassing part... how long it took lol.

Rosalind Winton

Charles, I use WriterDuet, it is so easy to use, I haven't had any problems with it at all and I've been working on my screenplay for two years, although it is a story I've wanted to tell from when I was 11, so not sure if that counts lol.

Seraphima Nickolaevna Bogomolova

Yes, as it is now it is not very imaginative, meaning you cannot picture Tina's Mom except some night-robe. I would add the following (just an example not obliged to use it)

Suggestion: TINA’S MOM, (40), in a torn night robe, her dark curly hair dishevelled, her face bearing an expression of outmost fear, barges in. Tina sees her and SCREAMS.

I believe that is what the editor meant.

Charles Portillo

Rosalind, I've never heard of WriterDuet. Thanks I'll check it out if I have anymore problems with FD. Let me tell you every time I go to open my file now I get so nervous. I'm going to email it to myself every few days. And no, it doesn't count haha. I'm talking about actually working on the screenplay. I had a co-worker who encouraged me to keep writing everyday so I told her I would write two pages a day at least and she would hold me to it. The problem was I never outlined the story so some things strayed away and just didn't work. Lots of plot holes. And in January when I thought I would just need a touch up I got back so much feedback about the story and great suggestions that I didn't want to fix because i Knew it would take forever for me to do. I was so discouraged I just let it sit for I would say for about 6 weeks. Then I got to it again sent it in for some notes and again got some very good feedback and now here I am. I'm so close! Next time I write I'm going to write an outline all the main character descriptions, the conflict, the main character's goals, the theme and write a treatment about it because this can't happen again. I am so mentally exhausted from writing this screenplay. There's no way I would go through this again.

Seraphima Nickolaevna Bogomolova, thank you so much!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey, Charles, here's my final two cents: If you agree about the redundancy then omit "night robe," which is two words, btw, no hyphen. It is both redundant and too obvious. We already know it is night time. We already know how people normally and practically dress for bed or evening at home. It does not tell us anything. It gives no new information. But if the mother character is different than normal in some way or you need to establish some other element or background or conflict to your protag's life, like, say, her mother is an alcoholic or has some issue, then use something different about whatever she is wearing—other commenters above have suggested a torn robe, being disheveled or drunk, etc. Or maybe she's an ex-cop and comes in with a gun? Dunno? Personally, I find it hard to believe the mother is only in this script once—huh? She lives with the protag, Tina, right? Thus she would be around in Tina's life—so that confuses me, doesn't seem logical? Perhaps the mother is an absentee parent? Leaves Tina alone to fend for herself? Then the mother's omission from the rest of the script makes more sense. That she and Tina do not have a close relationship; there's some dysfunction. You could make that crystal clear in this one scene. Otherwise, by going "generic" or conveying a normal-behaving, protective mother doing the parent thing then it makes absolutely no sense that the normal mom—after seeing or realizing some guy is stalking her daughter—would no longer be involved. Sorry, not realistic, not believable. This mother character may be a small part but it is a possible opportunity to add nuance or more realism to your protagonist, Tina, and her world. Again, I agree with the note to add more. Best to you!

Christine Capone

I agree with Beth with the mom having/needing more involvement in the screenplay and the daughter's life. If she's only 40, then I'm assuming Tina is a teenager so yeah, the mom would have more involvement.

Dan Guardino

I hate it when screenwriters dress their characters when it serves no purpose. If the mother gets murdered and they find blood evidence on the robe then I would keep it and if not I would let her wear whatever the people making the film want her to be wearing.

Doug Nelson

...or nothing at all.

Charles Portillo

Let's hold off on the nudity until my next project Shower Party Massacre. The girls will be dirty but the kills will be clean.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great... more sexism and violence against women.

Charles Portillo

So much for your "final two cents." I'm curious what kind of movies you watch. You specifically said "against women". Would you be okay if I had all male shower scenes? Do I promote the kind of negative sexism? No, I don't believe in discrimination nor prejudice against anyone. I'm very left and progressive in my political views but can still watch violence in a movie against men AND women. Can you?

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