Screenwriting: Introducing Too Many Characters Too Quickly

March 21, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Screenwriting: Introducing Too Many Characters Too Quickly

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

I’m just about finished the first act of a new feature length screenplay I’ve been developing for the last few months.  Before I began the second act, I wanted to take a few days and really analyze what I’ve got so far and the overall tone I’ve set for the script.

  • Is it entertaining?
  • Does it move quickly?
  • Are there any slow  or boring sequences?
  • Which characters work?
  • Which do not work?
  • Is the dialogue interesting?
  • Does each moment contribute to the story?

These questions brought up something that concerns me:

DID I INTRODUCE TOO MANY CHARACTERS?

The first 10 pages of a screenplay are vital to gain the readers interest and too many characters can make things confusing in a hurry.  How many is too many?  Does it matter as long as you’ve spread things out?

The first 10 pages of my new project introduces 17 characters.  (That number includes minor roles etc…) The way I see it, if I can make these 10 pages work, if I can establish these characters, I’m in good shape moving forward.  The issue here is the techniques used to introduce my characters.  It brings up new questions:

READ LIKE A READER NOT A WRITER

  • Is this story easy to follow?
  • Do I remember names?
  • Do some characters stick more than others?
  • Is it overwhelming?
  • Can some characters be held back?
  • Is…  It…  Entertaining?

XTRA | Be Honest…  Is Your Screenplay Entertaining?

I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out ways to make my first 10 pages better…   In this case, my story begins at a funeral and we meet several people who are vital to the story.  Little by little, the funeral unfolds and more important characters are added in.

After a few hours of work, I think I’ve integrated these characters rather efficiently as each one moves the story forward.  However, the biggest change came when I merged two characters into one.  The result is a simpler script and a much better character overall.

IF IT SUITES THE STORY.  MAKE IT WORK.

At the end of the day, if it works it works.  I don’t think anyone will complain about too many characters if it’s easy to follow and the characters are memorable.  It’s also important to remember that it is the first 10 pages and you don’t have to introduce EVERYONE at the same time.

The minor changes I made had positive ripple effects throughout the first act and now I feel as confident as every moving forward with act 2.

Here are a couple links I found on the web on the topic of introducing new characters:

How To Introduce A Character

Most Common Mistakes Series: The Dangers of Character Overload

Screenwriting Structure Series Part 10: Your First Ten Pages & The Ordinary World

Screenwriting Mistake #45: Introducing Too Many Characters

The Basics of Introducing A Character

And here is Robert Mckee’s take on introducing new characters:

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