How do you write perfect screenwriting character descriptions?
26. Polished perfection: How your script should look
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Do your character descriptions go on for pages? Could you write a small novel from those descriptions alone? Or have you disregarded writing character descriptions entirely, settling for just a name?
We’ve got the lowdown on writing the perfect character description in your script. Why? Because we believe in you and don’t want you to get disregarded due to such a small detail, that with a little practice can help hurl the reader into the world of your script through the character’s eyes. Shoom!
Read scripts. Read as many as you can. You will soon see how each writer tends to have a unique writing style, yet they all follow a strict set of technical principles.
There are thousands of scripts at your disposal online, so utilize ‘em! The more you read, the more their professional approach will subconsciously implant itself into your brain like a helpful worm of screenwriting skill. When you start writing your own script, you’ll surprise yourself with the quality of your writing.
Finding the perfect amount of detail
For example, it’s all too common for novice writers to write overly detailed character descriptions.
BETTY (34, tatty blouse accompanied by equally tatty pants, little makeup, short red hair tied in a bun, black bag and shoes, small ears though they do not affect her hearing, some freckles across her nose, brown eyes, average length eyelashes). Betty is a lovely person on the outside but inside she is firm and reads through anyone she talks to. She will do anything for her family, even though they are unlikely to do the same for her.
Did you fall asleep? Like, when’s the story gonna start, man? As we’re sure you can tell, very little of the description above is scriptworthy. All you need for a character description is a quick summary of what the audience will be able to see, and a small description of their personality:
BETTY (34), assertive but altruistic, neatens her formal attire – which has seen better days.
Two or three words about her personality and a brief sentence about her appearance is all we need to know (unless of course it is crucial to the story that the audience be absolutely aware Betty has freckles because an alien put them there when she got abducted or something). Sticking to this guideline for character description keeps the pace of your story cruising ahead.
- We know Betty puts others first with a single word (“altruistic”).
- We know she is firm with a single word (“assertive”).
- We are curious about why she does not have new clothes and why she might be self-conscious about it in one short sentence.
Now you can carry on with the rest of your story. Phew!
You can use this technique for as many characters in your script as you want; however, only put this much effort in if the character is really important to the story. Less important characters don’t even need that much!
Using this technique establishes the character as real in the reader’s imagination, making it much easier for them to empathize.
We know our screenwriting course is the bomb, but it’s extremely important to read as many top-notch screenplays as you can get your hands on, too.
Wax on, wax off: Learn discipline from the masters
Read some professional scripts online – it’s the best way to absorb proper screenplay presentation.
Go through your script and ensure all the rules mentioned above have been applied; be thorough!
Film Daily‘s Craft section features weekly articles with free smash-hit scripts you can download.
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