Thursday, January 13, 2011

Screenwriting Mistake #33: Bad character names, part 1

I regularly see four problems with character names that, at the very least, can cause confusion among readers and audiences, and at the worst can cause a reader to stop taking your script seriously and drop it right into the “no” pile. I’ll outline two of the naming problems in this post and will include the other two in the second half of this article tomorrow.

Let's start off with the character-naming issue that will definitely cause you the most problems:

Cutesy Names

The reason I say that cutesy character names will cause you a serious problem is because I once saw a reader go on an actual tirade after reading just the first page of a romantic comedy script because the main characters’ names were “William Wright” and “Allyson Wong.” Get it? Mr. Wright and Miss Wong. Har! Seriously, the reader actually threw a real-live hissy fit, which isn't something that you regularly see grown men doing unless you watch "Project Runway."

Tell the truth — did you just roll your eyes when you read those names? You don’t want a reader to roll his eyes at any part of your script, let alone throw a hissy fit, so make sure not to give your characters gimmicky names like this. Just give everyone regular names and let your writing ability stand on its own merits without unnecessary ploys like this.

Even though the above naming problem can be the most damaging to your script, the one that I see the most frequently is:

Characters Whose Names Sound Alike

I once read a script with three characters whose names all started with the letter “B,” and in one scene they were all having a conversation together. Can you imagine trying to keep up with a conversation among characters who are named “Bob,” “Billy” and “Bernard?” I also recently saw a script with two main characters named “James” and “Jamie,” so I had to keep checking their names to confirm who was doing what. Unless there’s a good reason why you need your characters to have names that sound alike, such as a story about mistaken identity, then you should make sure that your characters’ names don’t rhyme and that they don’t start with the same letter. This will make your script much easier for your reader to follow, which can only help you.

Check back tomorrow for the next two character naming issues!

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