At Script Chix, we read anywhere from five to 50 screenplays each week. Over the years of reading, we’ve come up with a number of familiar pitfalls we often see writers fall into when drafting scripts.
One of our biggest pet peeves is the issue of character names. Now, that might seem silly to some of you – after all, who cares what a character is named? Believe us when we say, a character by any other name does NOT smell as sweet.
Things to remember:
1) Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. In the world of screenwriting, this is especially important. If you have an entire page of dialogue between Jennifer and Jenny, your reader is going to get confused really fast. And try to steer clear of rhyming, as well – not just alliteration. Both can confuse your readers, and, unless necessary for plot or character reasons, should be avoided.
Remember, someone, somewhere, is tearing her hair out trying to remember whether Jennifer is the hot doctor or the nerdy reporter – or is it Jenny who’s the hot doctor and Jennifer who’s the sleazy businesswoman?
One trick we’ve learned to suggest to writers is to keep the alphabet in mind. Name your lead character something beginning with A, and move on from there consecutively for every additional character (B, C, D, E, and so on). This will ensure there is no confusion between your protagonist and his proctologist.
2) This isn’t a necessity, as sometimes the best characters have the most bland names, but… try to come up with a name that really suits the character. Some writers we know have told us that the character picks their own name, but we tend to find that that’s not always the case.
Think about the tone of your piece; while “Satanico Pandemonium” works well in From Dusk Til Dawn, it might not work as well in The Hours. Maximus Decimus Meridius is great for Gladiator, but wouldn’t really work in Legally Blonde.
Think about time period, genre, and your character’s personality for guidance. That doesn’t mean the name must stand out – Elle Woods isn’t as memorable a name as Alotta Fagina – but it should suit who your character is.
3) Finally, and this should be obvious with any writing: remember to proofread. We can’t count the number of scripts we’ve read where a character’s name was full of typos (because spellcheck didn’t catch it), or where a name changed halfway through. Really doing a thorough proof of character names will help avert this frequent problem.
As for ways to come up with these brilliant, mind-blowing names, we do what lots of writers do: look at baby books, search the internet for inspiration, look through “meaning of flowers” books and dictionaries… and, of course, look to friends of ours to see if anyone we know has just the right name for our favorite character.
To wrap up, here are some of our own favorite character names, which truly seem to fit the people they represent:
Holden Caulfield. Maleficent. Hannibal Lecter. Atticus Finch. Ebenezer Scrooge.
What are your favorites?
Miranda Sajdak and Sandra Leviton are writer/producers currently living in Los Angeles. They host events for writers in the Los Angeles area, and provide screenplay notes, help with proofreading, and numerous other writer services through their company Script Chix. They have a great appreciation for horror, thriller, complex female characters, and writers with a unique narrative voice. More can be found on their website at http://www.scriptchix.com.