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comicalmayhem's avatar

Words for how a character says something in a screenplay?

Asked by comicalmayhem (809points) June 8th, 2011

In a screenplay, parentheses often indicate how a character says a line of dialog. What are some describing words for how someone can say something?

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10 Answers

TexasDude's avatar


comicalmayhem's avatar

I mean specifics like “angrily”, “with emphasis”, “with empathy”, “in a harsh tone”...

Blueroses's avatar

Are you talking about specific descriptions? As in: “That’s my car!” (threateningly)
“That’s my car!” (lewdly)

KatawaGrey's avatar

The general rule of thumb is to not put too many of these words in because you are straying into directing and acting territory. However, certain words like “yelling,” “whispering,” “while laughing,” or even “to [character]” are acceptable and even encouraged.

My senior project was a feature length screenplay and this is what several professors told me.

comicalmayhem's avatar

@KatawaGrey Thanks, and a quick question. If I’m writing a scene where it starts out in one setting and then cuts to another setting (like people talking over the phone), do I use a different logline each time it switches and if I do, does that mean after each logline, I need an action?

KatawaGrey's avatar

@comicalmayhem: That is an excellent question and something I didn’t have to deal with when writing my screenplay. However, I think that all you have to do is write dialogue normally and then inject action where you need it. The thing to keep in mind is that the director will decide exactly when to show who’s speaking and when to have the dialogue come through the phone. Unless it’s very important to the story, it’s best to let the director decide rather than writing that in yourself.

When writing a screenplay, you have to remember that no matter what you write, it is going to get changed in the process. Your job is essentially to give the best outline of the story you can. You’re cuing the actors to do what they need to do and you’re letting the director know where the story is supposed to go, but the actual words and actions may get changed.

Smashley's avatar

Screenplays tend to be more formal and structured than their stage predecessors. Keeping the cues to a minimum is generally considered proper. @KatawaGrey is right on with the comments about how little control a writer has over the finished piece.

In plays, which are intended to be read as well as produced, the playwright has a lot more freedom to be cheeky or over-explanatory, as a part of the literature, whether or not it is ever included in the play. Little aside jokes to the readers and performers can be included and still meet expected levels of professionalism.

Screenplays are more templates than instructions. The point really is to make the most ingeniously creative and yet simple template you can come up with. The fewer moving parts the better. There are occasions when these cues may be absolutely necessary, but try to use specific words for a feeling rather than general ones. We get when a character is angry; we don’t need to be told ”angrily.” However, the difference between ”numbly” and ”remotely” can be subtle. Choosing the exact right word for these necessary cues can change the trajectory of a story significantly.

That said, until you are much more familiar with the screenwriting process, stick with the general rule of “when in doubt, leave it out.”

comicalmayhem's avatar

@Smashley I’d also be the director. But yeah, it sounds a lot simpler that way. I always thought you had to have a parenthetical before dialog if you had a particular voice in your head.

Mantralantis's avatar

@comicalmayhem – I hope the scene below can help you in some way. If not, I may be out of my own league. Yep.

…from A Liquid Circus, a developing screenplay of mine…

MIRA comes into the kitchen and see’s MICHAEL sitting at the counter STARING at his glass of wine.


(chuckling at Michael)

Guess what, I have two tickets to see the Circus Rockers tonight at the Palace Theater.

MIRA notices some green apples in the chrome basket on the counter and starts juggling two of them.


(smirking up at MIRA)

Hmm. Well, I suppose we better get ready and put on our clown suits then, huh?

MIRA sits down next to him and picks up his glass of wine.


Your crazy. What do we have here, huh?

MIRA takes a sip of the drink.


(softly heralding at Mira)

A liquid circus.

Wryter’s Note: I wouldn’t mind some direct and interesting feedback about this scene, as well. Yep. Be Good.

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