In his book, Your Screenplay Sucks, William M Akers admonishes us to introduce characters in our screenplays in a concise but telling way. He provides the following counter example:
“MURIEL REED, a grounds Keeper, captivates Gary. She fills the sprayer with soda and mists brown over the grass.” This is perhaps a little too scanty. Akers suggests that you tell us about a character’s personality, their flaws or tics, but hold back on the smaller physical details until they are of importance. He suggests that specifying race and height, unless truly relevant, is best left out.
“When you introduce characters for the first time in the action block of a screenplay avoid superfluous physical details. Hone in only on details that provide a snapshot of personality.”
It is better to include physical detail that characterises—does double duty. Here’s an extract from Good Will Hunting:
“The guy holding court is CHUKIE SULLIVAN, 20, and the largest of the bunch. He is loud, boisterous, a born entertainer. Next to him is WILL HUNTING, 20, handsome and confident, a soft-spoken leader…”
“Venkman is an associate professor but his rumpled suit and manic gleam in his eyes indicate an underlying instability in his nature.”
This example, from The Big Lebowski, is Akers’ favourite:
“It is late, the supermarket all but deserted. We are tracking in on a fortyish man in Bermuda shirts and sunglasses at the dairy case. He is the Dude. His rumpled look and relaxed manner suggest a man in whom casualness runs deep.”
There you have it. A no nonsense approach of how to introduce the characters in your screenplays from one of the best.
Introduce characters by highlighting some quintessential aspect of their identity. Avoid superfluous details.