Among the most important aspects to consider when writing dialogue for your screenplay is economy . .
- Cut long dialogue speeches with a quick line of action narrative. This reduces 'blockiness',
but also facilitates page breaks.
- Enter as late as possible into scenes, and leave as early as possible.
- Eliminate the first words of dialogue lines, typically . .
- 'Of course'
- 'I mean', etc.
- Eliminate extra words like . .
. . unless used for
irony, character, or emphasis for some reason.
- 'thank you'
- 'you're welcome'
Use parentheticals in dialogue passages sparingly, and almost exclusively for the speaking
character's attitudes or actions. For attitudes, use them only when to leave the descriptor out
could lead to a misunderstanding of something important. Actors strike out such parentheticals,
preferring to interpret the lines in their own way, but the reader may still benefit. Using
parentheticals for the speaker's actions should be done very, very rarely, and with good reason.
Perhaps where interrupting with a full narrative passage would be too distracting or jarring,
e.g., in a very fast-paced and delicately arranged action sequence, or in a delicately arranged
To do other than the foregoing just works the reader too hard, shows the writer to be amateurish,
and angers actors and directors. Justifiably proud of their own talent, and paid to interpret as
best they can, they bristle at the writer prefiguring their approach to delivering certain lines.
CAUTION: a reading of a line of your dialogue in a manner opposite to the mood or tone you thought best might actually
work better on-screen.
When punctuating your screenplay dialogue . .
- Use ellipses (". . .") very rarely, maybe a handful per script. Use only when the character
. . or when his mind wanders, or something distracts him.
Consider using only two dots for your ellipses.
- loses his train of thought
- falls asleep
- dies, etc.
- Use the double dash ("--") for when a character's dialogue is cut off—and another double dash
when it resumes at the beginning of his next line.
- Limit exclamation points to a handful for the entire script . .
- Only apply them to urgent commands or announcements, and then only once per line, as
in . .
- 'Load ammunition. Prepare to fire. Fire!'
- Replace quotation marks inside a line of dialogue with apostrophes, so . .
- 'She said "leave me"' becomes 'She said 'leave me''
- Never use bolding.
- Single space only; no double line spacing.
- Use underscoring instead of italics, and only . .
- with foreign terms, or
- when to leave out the emphasis would lead to misunderstanding of something important
- Use special punctuation, meaning anything other than . .
. . sparingly.
- apostrophes, etc.
Look over and apply special formatting to . .
Each of these can be complicated and counter-intuitive. Make sure you understanding how to do it, and get them right in your screenplay.
- phone calls
- foreign languages
- voice-overs vs. off-screen (V.O./O.S.)
To receive the most sympathetic reading for your script in Hollywood, generally . .
- use screenplay format to your
advantage—get it right. Best way to do this, and the easiest, is with screenwriting software—free, cheap, or dear.
- only put ink on the page that is absolutely required . .
- cut all excess words, use only words absolutely necessary for telling your story
- eliminate excess periods, whether . .
. . as they subliminally tell the mind to stop.
- in scene headings
- after pages numbers
- in ellipses
- check your spelling. Run spell check on your computer before sending anything out.
Do all this to minimize stress on the reader's eye and enhance clarity. If you tire the reader,
he will be less sympathetic to your project. To ease the reader's load, and make things as clear as
possible, consider . .
Other Screenwriting Pointers