Friday, January 14, 2011

Screenwriting Mistake #34: Bad character names, part 2

In addition to the two character name problems that I discussed yesterday (cutesy names and characters whose names sound alike), there are a couple of other name-specific issues that you should avoid in your screenplays.

Unless you are writing a script for the SNL character “Pat” or you have some other good reason for making one of your characters sexually ambiguous, you should make sure that there is no uncertainty about your characters’ genders. I have read a number of scripts that introduce a character named “Chris” or “Terry” or “Alex” only to find out a few pages later that the character was not the gender that I thought. It’s fine to use a name that might not have an obvious gender as long as you make it clear in your script what sex the person is. Obviously, this is only an issue that will affect the reader since moviegoers will be able to see your characters’ genders without taking cues from their names, but it’s always good to make things as easy as possible on readers.

Too Many Characters With Names

I don’t see the problem of having too many named characters all that frequently, which is why I saved it for last, but I have seen it enough that I wanted to make sure to include it in this list. I remember one script in particular that named every single character, including bystanders who were in only one scene and didn’t have any lines. If a character doesn’t play a significant role in your story, then there’s no reason to give that character a name.

However, if a character does have a line in your script, then you do need to give that character a name, even if it’s just something generic like “Passerby” or “Security Guard,” but you only need to give actual names to characters that contribute something significant to your story. You can be the judge of what “significant” means in your script, but you definitely shouldn’t give names to every single person who appears onscreen.

Okay, that’s al I have to say (for now) about character names. If you avoid these four common problems, your script will definitely be the better for it.


  1. Phil... just found the blog while reading up on some fresh ways to handle exposition in my writing. I've probably spent the last hour or so reading your posts. Good stuff buddy. Keep up the good work. Rookies like me appreciate it.

  2. It most certainly will.