Changing Character Names

Whatever a character is named in Direction should also be his or her name in the Character Heading. But sometimes character names can change, and the corresponding Character Header may need to change as well (but not always).

In this section we'll explore the reasons why a character's name may change and how to best handle those changes in the Character Headers.

Writing Note: As a general rule, good guys are usually referred to by their first names in Character Headers and bad guys are referred to by their last names.

Minor Characters Given Names:

Sometimes a character will speak before he or she has been formally introduced in a Direction paragraph. In situations such as this, it is okay to give a character a general name in the initial Character Header, and then update the Header with the character's proper name once it becomes known to the reader.

Look at this situation:

In the example above the writer uses the Character Header DOCTOR initially as the name of the doctor hasn't been revealed. Once it is, we can refer to the character as REGGIE from then on, but first we use the Character Header REGGIE (DOCTOR) to make sure the reader understands the transition and doesn't get confused.

You'll also notice the writer Capitalizes both DOCTOR and REGGIE HOLT in the Direction paragraphs even though it is the same person. Again, it is best to be sure the reader doesn't assume REGGIE HOLT has been seen before.

Giving a Name to a Voice:

A similar situation may occur if a character who hasn't been introduced yet speaks off screen. Check out this example:

We can just refer to the voice as MALE VOICE with the Off Screen extension and then refer to him as RAND once the voice's speaker is identified. I could have written RAND (MALE VOICE) as Rand's initial Character Header if I thought the reader might be confused, but in this situation, I think the transition is obvious.

However, since the identity of the voice is quickly revealed within the scene, I could have also done this:

Nothing wrong with that, unless the writer simply doesn't want the name revealed to the reader until it is completely necessary.

Two Names, One Character:

What is a character has two names? Maybe he or she lives a double life. Maybe he or she is a double agent. Maybe he thinks he is one person, but finds out later he is really someone else. How do you refer to such characters in the character headers?

Well, one option is to simply ALWAYS refer to the character by both names in every Character Header throughout the entire screenplay. That can be done in two ways:

The examples above will guarantee no one will ever be confused as to who is who and it'll cue the reader from the very beginning to be on the lookout for some identity issues as the story progresses.

Of course, another option, especially if a character's true identity is established early on, is to refer to the character by his originally established name in every Character Header throughout the screenplay, even in scenes where other characters are calling him by his other name.

So Albert would be ALBERT in the Character Header even if other characters think he is Sampson.

A third option would be to refer to Albert as ALBERT in every Character Header where he is Albert, but change up his Character Header in the scenes where he is pretending to be Sampson. The "Sampson" Headers could be written like this:

Whatever you do, just make sure you do everything you can to make sure the reader doesn't get confused and read the entire script believing Albert and Sampson are two different people (unless such a deception is the point of the film, as in Fight Club).

Secret Identity Revealed:

Let's say we have a screenplay in which a seemingly minor character turns out to be the villain the hero has been searching for throughout the film.

Initially, the villain would have a minor character's Character Header, such as in this scene:

But then in the climax of the film, our villain steps out of the shadows, and the audience discovers him to be someone they've met before:

Kalee's initial Character Header will contain the extension (CAB DRIVER) to remind the reader and director that this character is not new to the screenplay. Without it, casting might hire two different actors, and the big reveal the writer intended will never happen.