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In a screenplay, would it be okay to introduce a character through a dialogue? The character in question isn't given a background (in the ACTION) in the start since his first appearance is one where he appears all of a sudden. A couple of lines later, he gets a description of his physical features.

And even though he has a sizeable role (read '3 minutes of screen time') in the film, I have referenced him simply as MAN in all of the dialogues.

Is it common practice to first have a character speak something and then introduce him to the reader, purely out of narrative demands?

I wish for the answer to hold for the introduction of the protagonist as well. He is introduced with a voice-over and it's only after a minute of VO that you actually get to see him. Should I describe his voice or just get going with it? Also, is it okay to reference him with his own name (in the VO dialogue that he speaks), since he will be introduced later in the very first page?

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A screenplay is an odd hybrid because you have two audiences, the reader of the screenplay, and the viewer of the film. Because of this, screenplays have a lot of strict conventions which you should never break (or only for EXTREMELY good reasons).

In general, anything that will appear on screen needs to be described the first time in appears, not in the dialog, but directly in the stage directions, so the reader can see the movie in her mind as she reads it. If, as you indicated, the character first appears in voice over, describe the auditory qualities of his voice, rather than his physical qualities, because that's what the final audience would experience at that point. When he appears on screen, however, the physical details must be provided right at the point that he appears, not a few lines later.

I can't tell from your question if you're generally following screenplay format, aside from this, but if not, you should take the time to research it --there are many good resources online (here's a decent one). No one in the industry will be willing to read an incorrectly formatted screenplay.

  • How would one go about describing his 'auditory qualities'? Wouldn't that be directing from the keyboard? Can you cite any examples where the same has been done? – Sampark Sharma Aug 29 '15 at 8:07
  • It doesn't have to be a lot -- maybe just "Male voice, threatening" or "female voice, youthful" – Chris Sunami Aug 30 '15 at 0:21
  • @SamparkSharma Thanks for the bounty! However, please be aware you (usually) can also change the accepted answer if you feel this one is stronger than the one you originally accepted. – Chris Sunami Sep 5 '15 at 17:26
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Yes, it's possible to introduce a character only after the VO. Look at American Beauty as an example. It does both of those things you describe, with RICKY having dialog O.S. before he's actually described, and Lester having his VO introduction before he appears physically in the screenplay.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE and nice answer, Laura! If you have a moment, please visit the tour and the help center. Have fun! – White Eagle Apr 18 '18 at 17:01
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It is perfectly possible to do this. A classic example would be Moby Dick. Okay, it's a whale but it's a character that gets spoken about in great length before finally appearing. Likewise, Keyser Soze gets spoken about in The Usual Suspects without ever appearing.

A lot of the time in films, a character in teen films especially is usually talked about for some embarassing event before they appear and are laughed at so we know why they're being laughed at.

  • Would I be able to get away with it without creating any confusion in the reader's mind? Wouldn't the reader want to know who the character is before seeing what he has to say? Especially so if it's a voice-over. – Sampark Sharma Aug 27 '15 at 14:06
  • I think this is a good perspective in general, but not in reference to the OP's specific question about screenplays. – Chris Sunami Aug 27 '15 at 16:20
  • Moby Dick is a splendid example because we hear much of the Great White Whale before we finally see him near the end of the book. Yet we also hear much of Captain Ahab, even hear him from our bunks as he paces the deck with his syncopated, wooden-legged gait in the middle of the night. – Feralthinker Aug 30 '15 at 1:32

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