Think there’s nothing to introducing characters in a script? Think again!
Over the next few weeks, I’m doing a deep dive into the subject of character introductions. Why would I do that? For an explanation, check out Part 1.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.
Part 4 here.
Part 5 here.
Part 6 here.
Part 7 here.
Part 8 here.
Part 9 here.
Part 10: Introduction Through Objects
If you recall the final script example from Part 9— Marty McFly’s introduction in Back to the Future — screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale take the reader on a visual tour of items (tennis shoes, skateboard, guitar, amp, speaker) before we actually see full-on and hear the character. The use of objects represents another option we as writers have to create entertaining and informative character introductions.
Why entertaining? Because we tease the reader, doling out clues about the character’s personality as represented by the items about which we write.
Why informative? Because if we choose the objects well, they are a reflection of the character’s attitudes, speaking to their core essence.
For example, why did Zemeckis and Gale choose the guitar, amp, speaker, guitar pick? Because Marty plays lead guitar in a rock-and-roll band and it’s his fantasy to become a successful rock musician. These objects reflect that part of Marty’s core essence.
Here’s a key to handling a character introduction in this manner: Whatever objects you choose can not be arbitrary, but rather have to reveal something important about the character, say something meaningful about them.
There are all small examples of introduction through objects. In fact, there was one in Part 9: The beginning of Romancing the Stone. Here again is the opening that script:
“A size 16-EEEE boot.” That object is the very first image writer Diane Thomas uses to start the story. Why? Because it’s entertaining: (1) Begins the story with a bang; (2) It’s a strong visual image; (3) It immediately gets a reader thinking, “Who is this boot connected to and why are they kicking in the door?”
The boot also conveys information: Size 16-EEEE is a big boot attached to a big foot connected to a big guy. And sure enough, the boot-wearer Grogan is an imposing figure: “a dirty, foul-smelling beast” per the script carrying a shotgun to boot [pun intended]. So even with this small example of object introduction, we can see those dual dynamics in play: entertaining and informative.
Examples in Movie Scripts of Introduction Through Objects
The script E.T. [written by Melissa Mathison] is an interesting example. A investigative official played by Peter Coyote is introduced over several pages using keys as an object.
In the Opening, where E.T. gets left behind by the mother ship, there are humans investigating the scene:
A man with keys jangling from his waist walks past a headlight. He carries a flashlight in his hand.
Later in the same scene:
“Keys” hears this sound and quickly turns around.
So at this point, the character is given a name reflecting the object. Then:
One of the pursuers is the man wearing the keys on his waist.
After E.T. has found Elliott, there is a scene where investigators search the neighborhood:
The man with keys on his waist walks into the area, as other men comb the ground with electronic equipment.
Then a later scene with the investigators back on the scene:
The shadow of a man falls on the driveway. The sound of keys jangling is heard.
Much later after Elliott takes off with E.T. to rendezvous with the mother ship:
“Keys” runs up to Mary and asks where she’s going. Gertie blurts out “to the spaceship.”
Here is a case where the object has such a close association with the character, his presence is signified by the object every time he shows up.
In the movie script Heathers [written by Daniel Waters], the writer introduces the story’s Protagonist Veronica using a set of objects tied to the game of croquet:
There are numerous layers of meaning to the use of croquet as a means of introducing Veronica and the specific subculture of her ‘friends’ world: These mean girls play with others in their game of life determining who is cool and who is not, this game has a complex set of rules, and mostly Veronica becomes the victim of their enmity, all indicted symbolically by starting the story with a croquet game.
An interesting example of an introduction through objects is the movie High Fidelity [screenplay by D.V. DeVincentis & Steve Pink & John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg, based on the novel by Nick Hornby]. Here is how the script begins:
This combination of objects and dialogue reflects the world view of a true audiophile and obsessive music lover, capped off by the story’s central thematic question in the scene’s last side.
Objects are yet another tool writers have to create entertaining and informative character introductions, using items to convey something of a character’s core essence, a nice visual way of translating data into the mind of a script reader.
Tomorrow in Part 11, we look at a final angle on character introductions: Surprise.
Character Introductions: Part 10