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Introducing Names

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:

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.

HERBERT

What did the boss say, John?

JOHN

Well, he avoided the issue, Herbert.

HERBERT

But John, did you ask him?

John ignores the question and plucks a leaf of salad from the sandwich.

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:

INT. OFFICE CANTEEN – DAY

HERBERT (23), tall, geeky but above all impatient, looks at JOHN (31), handsome but aloof. John focuses on his sandwich.

HERBERT

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.

HERBERT

John... I want to know!

JOHN

Did who say?

Herbert is about to lose it.

HERBERT

The boss, John. Did he give you the numbers??

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.

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About the Author

Karel FG Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplayat age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international acquisition, development and production. He co-wrote Danger Close, the biggest budget Australian film of the decade, and has trained and consulted all over the world, including award-winners and Academy Award nominees. Karel ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks a handful of European languages, which he is still trying to find a use for in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia

Comments 4

  1. ah.. this reminded me of my year 9 drama teacher whom told me that I shouldn’t have characters say each other’s names so often. And it’s become second nature to me that characters rarely call each other names, only when the dialogue needs it to emphasise the their conflict or situation.

    Oh, and Lost is great. Last season too… though, a bit out there now…

  2. I’m stuck on a story where there’s no dialogue at all, however, my character’s name is important and I want to find a way to introduce it without dialogue. Any suggestions?

    1. Post
      Author

      They can wear a name badge, receive mail with their name on it, perhaps they have an office with their name on it etc.

      I hope this helps?

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