July 14, 2016

10 Ways to Successfully Introduce a Character

Your character's first moments on screen set the tone for the entire movie. Here's how to do it right.

Take a minute and think about some of your favorite movie characters. Chances are, you remember the exact moment they set foot on screen—whether it's Darth Vader storming into Leia's starship to re-claim the stolen plans for the newly constructed Death Star, or Don Corleone thoughtfully stroking his cat within the dark confines of his study on the day of his daughter's wedding. A character's entrance onscreen can end up meaning a whole lot to your movie.

Luis Azevedo of Beyond the Frame fame threw together this handy video essay chock-full of strategies to ensure your character hops into your narrative in style.

Here are 10 rules for introducing your character.

10. Induce action

Let your audience know what role your character will play by giving him an action to perform upon entrance—its consequence will immediately define his personality.

9. Elicit contradicting reactions

Strengthen your character by establishing how his own idea of himself differs from the perceptions of those around him.

8. Elevate the character's status

Introducing your character with a striking portrait or close-up lets the audience know that he is important and must be recognized as such throughout the film.

7. Convey the film's themes

The central ideology of the character can serve to clue the audience in on some of the film’s deeper themes. 

6. Invite the audience into the character’s world

How does your character walk? How does she talk? How does she see the world? Make the audience see the world through your character’s eyes. Make them feel the way she feels. You want them to believe in this perception of his own reality, even if it is far different than the actual reality of the rest of her world.

5. Introduce the fatal flaw as soon as possible

Overwhelm the audience with your character’s flaws from the get-go so they are able to follow the stages of his journey, whether tragic or heroic, that will lead to the resolution of his character—and, ultimately, the film.

Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglorious Bastards.'

4. A technique of economy

Write his introduction so the audience can get as much information as they can about your character in the least amount of screen time possible.

3. Create anticipation

Use every method of foreshadowing in your arsenal to paint a vivid picture of the character in your audience’s mind before they actually get a chance to see what she acts and looks like. The most effective tool at your disposal is always your audience’s imagination.

2. Choose the right scene

At what point in your film will the introduction of a character have the greatest effect? Think about how you can heighten the stakes of plot and the importance of a character simply by choosing when she first enters the movie.

1. Above all, character entrances must be memorable

Darth Vader in A New Hope. Enough said.      

Your Comment

5 Comments

Yeah, sorry. More needs to be said about Darth Vader. I've seen the movie a few times, and that scene in the video could have been new to me. Maybe to Star Wars fanboys, but it's pretty forgettable. The music is memorable, which is the only reason anyone likes Star Wars, but not the scene itself.

July 14, 2016 at 6:58PM

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Thank you,this is well said and understood.
I look forward to learning more eagerly .
Kathawren
ORIGINAL Folk Theatre Productions

July 15, 2016 at 12:19PM

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Sorry, can't let this mistake slip by, but, Darth Vader's character was not introduced by "storming into Leia's cell to claim the stolen plans for the newly constructed Death Star". It's when the Imperial starship captured Leia's ship and he entered immediately after the ship was boarded by storm troopers. Though he didn't have any dialogue in that scene, his costume, artificial breathing and the music told you pretty much everything you needed to know. The embedded video gets this fact right. Mr. Fusco's penance should be that he must go back and watch Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Which, come to think of it, is hardly punishment at all. Maybe he should have to be compelled to watch Episode I instead. :-)

July 15, 2016 at 2:41PM

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Scott Vanderbilt
Production Sound mixer
143

Nerd.

No, you're absolutely right. I went between the two a few times before regrettably coming to the conclusion that if she had used an escape pod it must've been from the galley of an imperial starship. Once again, my tropes are getting the better of me.

Will change now. Please don't make me watch Episode 1.

July 15, 2016 at 3:49PM, Edited July 15, 3:49PM

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Jon Fusco
Producer/Editor
Actor/Writer/Director

Hans Landa in 'Inglorious Bastards' is a wonderful example of a memorable entrance! as well as that of Donny Donowitz and Aldo Raine in the same! So good that many of the flaws in the movie can be disregarded.

July 17, 2016 at 3:50AM

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David Hallberg
Project coordinator, researcher
238