When I re-watched the pilot episodes of LOST, it struck me how late the main characters’ names are introduced.
And it works so well. By the time we hear the names mentioned, we are already wondering about them.
First we see the stranded group realize their situation, dumbfounded. Then they start interacting and some characters clearly take the lead. Only then do we slowly find out their names.
The writer waits for the audience to beg for the characters’ names.
This makes sense: by the time we really want to know the characters’ names, there’s a good chance we’ll remember them.
How often does it happen you’re watching a movie, you start wondering about a character’s name and it turns out you’ve missed your opportunity, because it was mentioned early on – and then never again?
Inexperienced writers often introduce their characters’ names without putting any thought into it. Or not at all.
I remember reading a screenplay where the main character had been around for NINETEEN PAGES before the name was revealed. There was no sensible reason to withhold the name for that long.
In LOST, the names are also revealed naturally, i.e. in situations that make sense, e.g. characters introducing themselves.
The other extreme is dialogue such as this:[scrippet]INT. OFFICE CANTEEN – DAY
HERBERT (23), tall, geeky and insecure leans over the table towards JOHN (31), handsome but aloof. John is focusing on his sandwich.
What did the boss say, John?
Well, he avoided the issue, Herbert.
But John, did you ask him?
John ignores the question and plucks a leaf of salad from the sandwich.[/scrippet]
In natural speech, people hardly ever mention each other’s names.
Of course there are exceptions, e.g. when things get emotional. So the right time to introduce a character name would be in a situation where a character is trying to get another character’s attention. Look at the same scene again:
[scrippet]INT. OFFICE CANTEEN – DAY
HERBERT (23), tall, geeky but above all impatient, looks at JOHN (31), handsome but aloof. John focuses on his sandwich.
So, what did he say?
John ignores the question and plucks a leaf of salad from the sandwich.
Herbert looks around suspiciously, then leans over the table to John.
John… I want to know!
Did who say?
Herbert is about to lose it.
The boss, John. Did he give you the numbers??[/scrippet]
Admittedly, it’s not the most inspiring example but you get the point.
If you found this tip useful, check out the Screenplay Checklist, an A-Z of commonly made mistakes by aspiring screenwriters.
Check this 12p. list of errors and annoyances to perfect your spec screenplay.