Screenwriting

POINTERS


Dialogue

Economy

Among the most important aspects to consider when writing dialogue for your screenplay is economy . .
  1. Cut long dialogue speeches with a quick line of action narrative. This reduces 'blockiness', but also facilitates page breaks.
  2. Enter as late as possible into scenes, and leave as early as possible.
  3. Eliminate the first words of dialogue lines, typically . .
    • 'Well'
    • 'No'
    • 'Yes'
    • 'Of course'
    • 'I mean', etc.
  4. Eliminate extra words like . .
    • 'hello'
    • 'goodbye'
    • 'please'
    • 'thank you'
    • 'you're welcome'
    . . unless used for irony, character, or emphasis for some reason.

Parentheticals

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 love scene.

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.


Punctuation

When punctuating your screenplay dialogue . .

  1. Use ellipses (". . .") very rarely, maybe a handful per script. Use only when the character . .
    • loses his train of thought
    • falls asleep
    • dies, etc.
    . . or when his mind wanders, or something distracts him. Consider using only two dots for your ellipses.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!'
  4. Replace quotation marks inside a line of dialogue with apostrophes, so . .
    • 'She said "leave me"' becomes 'She said 'leave me''
  5. Never use bolding.
  6. Single space only; no double line spacing.
  7. Use underscoring instead of italics, and only . .
    • with foreign terms, or
    • when to leave out the emphasis would lead to misunderstanding of something important
  8. Use special punctuation, meaning anything other than . .
    • periods
    • commas
    • colons
    • semi-colons
    • apostrophes, etc.
    . . sparingly.


Format

Look over and apply special formatting to . .

  1. phone calls
  2. foreign languages
  3. voice-overs vs. off-screen (V.O./O.S.)
Each of these can be complicated and counter-intuitive. Make sure you understanding how to do it, and get them right in your screenplay.

General

To receive the most sympathetic reading for your script in Hollywood, generally . .

  1. 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.
  2. 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 . .
      • in scene headings
      • after pages numbers
      • in ellipses
      . . as they subliminally tell the mind to stop.
  3. 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 . .


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Other Screenwriting Pointers

  1. General screenwriting tips and suggestions.
  2. Tips and suggestions on screenwriting action narratives.
  3. Tips and suggestions from Screenwriting.info
  4. 'Screenwriting Tips from a Screenplay Contest Judge' by Gordy Hoffman.
  5. Screenwriting Tips...You Hack by Xander Bennett.
  6. Scriptologist.com directory of screenwriting tips.

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