Screenwriting : Introducing and describing characters by Nick Baker

Nick Baker

Introducing and describing characters

When introducing characters do you normally focus on physical features or personality traits? Or does it depend on whatever defines them most and switch between the two?

Stephen Floyd

Simpler is better. You have the whole film to show who this person is.

Craig D Griffiths

I do physical things, just like someone watching my film experience. I also put some personality in to indicate how it would be acted.

A single word like Confident or Insecure and speak volumes about what the viewer would be seeing as well as informing them how to read the character (until they learn it from your script).

Louis Tété

Physical features only if they really matter to the story. If not, at least few indications of what the characters look like but don't be too precise to let room for casting, unless you're gonna cast and direct yourself. Personality is a must but it's better when it's done through actions than only through dialogues.

John Ellis

When you intro characters, it's important to give the reader a sense of who that char is, as concisely as possible. So how you do that depends on the character.

Kay Luke

DO NOT describe ANYTHING that is not pertinent to the scene.

With respect to all description, the Rule is:

It Doesn't Matter Except When It Matters.

Doug Nelson

If it's relevant to the storyline, probably. If it's not relevant - don't. Refrain from making the Casting Agents job more difficult than it already is.

Chad Stroman
Craig D Griffiths

Craig Mazin of Chernobyl fame uses Hair, Gender, Age, Race and Makeup. Especially to inform casting in the reader’s mind.

Remember until it is filmed and someone can see it. I believe it is my responsibility to paint what will be seen.

Mike Heff

Yeah only if it matters, like a green shirt wouldn't really matter in the scene unless there was context like it was St. paddy's day or something.

Matthew Hall

I introduce characters like this - JOE BLOGS (30's, dashing)

As others have said, if it's not pertinant, don't clutter.

Chris Todd

My most recent pilot I used only names to introduce my characters. Plus a general aged range for the main character.

Kay Luke

I wouldn't put too much faith into articles from Script Lab.

If you call the color of the character's eye, you better have one damn good reason.

DO NOT try to hide a lousy script with superfluous description and don't hide a good one with it either.

Matthew Hall -- (30's, DASHING) should be (30's) Dashing.

Kay Luke

That whole article seems to lack an understanding of the difference between Character Description and Action description.

Describing the Character's action is NOT describing the Character.

A Characterization and a Physical Description are two different things.

PJ Edwards


Rick Meyer

make every word count, or cut it.

Jim Boston

Nick, I focus on personality traits. Rarely do I list physical features...something I used to do all the time, but thanks to what I've found on Stage 32, I've learned to stop doing.

Natalie Immonen

I've stopped including character descriptions altogether (except for approximate age, like 'elderly', 'teenager' etc. when it's relevant). The characters' actions reveal what they are like.

Imo Wimana Chadband

I don't have a set method to this. Depending on the scene I'll do what suits best, but I try to keep it simple.

Peter Roberts

Depends upon what the story is about. If physical attributes play a pivotal role then, of course, these will be required. As Natalie has mentioned personality traits are usually revealed in the characters actions. In the end it all boils down to the scripts focus.

Richard Cosgrove

I describe the characters’ personalities through actions that are “actable”. That means internal thoughts and feelings that can be expressed or influence behaviour and action, as well as straight action. I’ve also reference ethnicity and gender in major and minor, to push casting towards using people-of-colour and women, instead of defaulting to white males. That may get ignored, but at least I know I tried.

Karen Stark

I capture their essence in a sentence. She wears her life on her face says a lot more than a list of physical features in my opinion'

Kay Luke

This is from an unproduced, and as far as I know never sold script written by David S Ward , writer of The Sting and many others.

Facing him is ZACH PETTIBONE, maybe 30, in a dark suit. He has the serious but charming air of a salesman.

Craig D Griffiths

My favourite is

“sharp suit with his tie just loose enough to be casual and untrustworthy”

Stephen Floyd

I'm a fan of Sean's description in I, Tonya. "Obese and delusional. Not a good combination."

Doug Nelson

One of my characters is: A pompous Texan with a big hat and no cattle.

Krista Crawford

On some early coverage I got regarding one of my character's description, it was said "Don't describe anything that can't be seen or plays a part." I had something like "REESE, female, 30's, resourceful." Well, how is the audience going to see that she's resourceful? So with one of my later scripts, I intro my lead as "A crooked name tag on an untucked shirt reads FLYNN. Early 30's, relaxed and unflappable, Flynn has managed to under perform radiantly throughout her life." The description of being relaxed matches the visual of a crooked nametag and untucked shirt. You can see that. Just my thoughts on it.

Kay Luke

"Flynn has managed to under perform radiantly throughout her life."

That's subtext not description, and it doesn't belong in there. The rest was fine and sufficient.

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