Characters are arguably the most vital aspect of a script. Even if the story itself isn’t too strong, it’s widespread for characters to drag the audience along. Obviously, it’s preferable to have a great story and excellent characters. Still, it’s impossible to have a solid script without unforgettable characters.
Every script and story varies character-wise, with names primarily being how people remember the characters themselves. For example, just about every person knows who Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones are. Still, the notion of naming a character is more than just giving them a memorable name. Let’s take a look at what that means!
Photo credit: Careers in Film
Get the Era Right
Names change throughout history. What are common names today might’ve never been heard of years ago. Thus, the screenwriter must craft a script where the character names are correct for the era. Getting the era wrong can confuse the audience and not give them a complete sense of the setting.
For example, if you’re writing a story based in the 1950s, ideal character names would revolve around more basic names such as James, Michael, Mary, or Linda. Whereas a character in 2020 could have a name such as Liam, Noah, Olivia, Emma, etc.
Besides developing a memorable name for your script and writing it down, knowing how the name is pronounced is vital. Although many exact names don’t require pronunciation, consider doing so if the name isn’t ordinary. It’s best done in quotations, similar to how Google does with pronouncing names.
Outlining how to say a name will strengthen your script, giving whoever is reading it the purest sense of who the character is. A character’s name can be an added layer to the script that gives a sense of who they are and their aspirations. People love characters, and their name is a big part of it.
Checking Name Meanings
If you’re someone who prides themselves on the complete mise-en-scene of your story, you may want to use names with deepened meanings. Every name has a meaning to a certain extent, and this can be utilized for your script. An excellent way to do this is to look up “names for (trait)” and see what comes up.
Besides taking a name with a literal meaning, it’s also helpful to take a name representing a deepened layer for the character. For example, if your character hates their father, but they share a name, that’s an exciting bit of information for the story. There are plenty of ways to have meaning with the name; get creative!
Saying the Names Out Loud
Once you’ve established a specific name for a character, make sure you take the time to say the name out loud. Frequently, screenwriters work tirelessly for their script without ever looking at it in the real world. It’s more or less a direct look from the paper, without knowing if it works.
Saying your character’s names out loud will help you understand if the name works or not. An excellent way to know is to watch some great movies to see how the character names are said. Getting an idea of how your characters are said will allow you to know how the script will translate to being shot.
Fitting the Name to Each Character
One of the most significant issues people have with character names revolves around fitting the name to each character. Luke Skywalker looks like Luke Skywalker, just like Indiana Jones looks like Indiana Jones. Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Darth Vader, The Wicked Witch of the West, and so on; all great names that fit the character’s name.
If you’re in the middle of writing your antagonist, they should have a name that fits what they do to stop the protagonist from achieving their goal. No one will root against an evil antagonist if their name is bob (unless it’s done ironically for comedic relief). Take some lengthy time when you outline your characters, especially their names.
The Use Of Nicknames
The last point with naming characters in your script has to do with the use of nicknames. Nicknames are great for the audience to remember a character without having to know their actual name. Think of a film like The Sandlot and how virtually every character has a nickname to a certain extent. These characters are referred to by their nickname (Squints, Smalls, Yeah-Yeah, Ham) and not their actual name.
Nicknames aren’t only valuable in a kid’s movie such as The Sandlot. The names are also a treasure for more serious films, such as The Dark Knight with Batman and the Joker. Who cares what the Joker’s real name is since we all know him as the Joker. Nicknames are essentially a replacement for their real name to make it easier for the audience to remember the character.