Thursday, November 20, 2008

Screenwriting: Formatting Pt. 2 - Dialogue

Ahh, there is nothing quite like feeling comfortable and informed on even the tiniest details of script formatting. Once you feel like you have a good, educated grasp on formatting, you're able to focus the greater deal of your energy and efforts on the creative aspect. The technical stuff becomes second nature.

I want to take on some of the more questionable and tricky details of script formatting within the next three installments.

a. Using Parentheticals
b.Voice Overs (V.O.)
c. Off Screens (O.S.)
2.Scene Action
a. Captitalization
b. Formatting A Montage (Postponed For Later Installment)
c. Formatting A Flashback (Postponed For Later Installment)
3.Scene Headings (Sluglines)
a. What are they and when should I use them?
b. Variations
c. Keep your Scene Headings short and clear!
From a creative aspect, and if you're one of those picky writers who are concerned with creating dialogue that is useful to the mechanics of your story (that's a joke-- ALL writers should be), then dialogue tends to be a tedious job all on its own. Once combined with all of the technical factors, it can almost be overwhelming at times. So, while I won't write your dialogue for you, or try and lecture you on what is and isn't good dialogue, I will educate you on a few of the key technical facets so that, when you are taking on this intimidating task, you can focus entirely on your creativity and not be bogged down with the tech questions.
Using Parentheticals
You may have seen these before, even on your keyboard-- they're on the 9 & 0 key, but you must hold shift to use them.
Let's start off with a little quiz; which example is used correctly and which is not?
example 1:
Tara enters the room, clutching a grocery bag. Ted and Thelma look up to see her standing in front of them.
(glares evily at Ted, then sits down beside him,
he eyeballs the contents of the bag and Thelma rolls her eyes.)
Ted, I can't keep bringing you Snickers bars.
You're going to develop diabetes.
And Thelma, don't give me any greif about this, I feel
bad enough already.
example 2:
Tara enters the room, clutching a grocery bag. Ted and Thelma look up to see her standing in front of them.

Ted appears anxious, eyeballing the luggage. Thelma rolls her eyes.
Tara glares at Ted, and then takes a seat on the couch beside of him. She hands him the bag.
(to Ted)
Ted, I can't keep bringing you snickers bars,
you're going to develop diabetes.
(to Thelma)
And Thelma, don't give me any greif about this, I
feel bad enough, already.
So, which is correct? Obviously the second one-- I always make the second example the correct one.

The first example is wrong because for several reasons, one of the most important being that the parenthetical is used to give SHOT INFO. Another big reason is that, when using a ( ) under a dialogue header (character name), you must keep it specifically about THAT particular character.

Parentheticals are used to describe (short) actions that characters may simultaneously perform as they speak, but that doesn't mean that you can slip a whole shot in and get away with it. It can sometimes be an hard call, but the key idea to keep in mind is KEEP IT SHORT if you're putting it in parentheticals.

**Parentheticals can also be used to show who a character is talking to, or how they're speaking, ie; sarcastic, mockingly, etc.

In the second example, the smooth flow that should be on hand in every script is kept in tact. The flow of a script is highly important, and something as 'detail-ish' as a few extra words in paretheses can throw that off. Parentheticals also take up space (space is vital in a script), and they can force your actor(s) to feel as if they have no creative control over their character and interpretation. So while they are an important and helpful element in a screenplay, they're also more trouble than they're worth if over-used or used wrong.

One element that I see very misused is the Voice Over (V.O.). It too utilizes the parenthetical, but it is a vital element all on its own.

Here's an example of correct usage of Voice Over:


Shirley takes a seat on a nearby park bench. Steven follows.

I just can't get out of this job, I keep thinking
I should stick with it but I am so miserable.
Shirley doesn't reply, but listens.
I'm not offering up advice. He can talk all day
and I'm just going to listen.
I want to talk to my boss about quitting,
but I'm afraid he'll jump the gun and fire me.
Ew, he has something stuck in his teeth.
I bet he doesn't even know its there.
Shirley, are you even listening?
What? Yeah. Of course I'm listening.
Voice Overs can be used to narrate a story, or in this case, to establish the inner thoughts of a character.
A Voice Over is used when a character or narrator can be heard, but cannot be seen.

They're very simple to use, though very important. Its also important that you use them correctly and don't confuse them with Off Screens (O.S.).

OFF SCREEN is an element very similar to (V.O.), but the rules that determine which to use is what sets them apart.

Both elements utilize parentheticals, and both are used when a character is speaking but is not seen. Unlike (V.O.), (O.S.) implies that the character can be heard, is nearby, but is not on screen.

Here's an example:

Laura is comfortable on her bed with her journal.

Laura, come on downstairs and eat
your dinner before it gets cold.

Laura turns up her radio, drowing out her mom's voice.

Laura, don't make me come up there!
In this scene, Laura's mother is just downstairs and can be heard, but isn't on screen. That calls for a (O.S.) and not a (V.O.). However, if her mother's voice were to be heard in a memory while Laura wrote in her journal, or was lost deep in though, a (V.O.) would be appropriate.
See the difference? Though similiar, the two elements are very different and can cause confusion for your reader if used improperly.
So, that is all for today. I don't want to overload you with technical script info, so I'll give this lesson time to digest. In the meantime, check out or and read a few scripts. Reading produced scripts are a great way to learn about formatting and you'll find that many scenes you may have trouble formatting are not as complex once you see a good example.
Keep learning, keep reading, and check back soon for the next installment of
Formatting Pt.2 - SCENE ACTION.

No comments: