In the screenwriting forum, there was a thread called "Dialogue question," where it touched on the use of parentheticals, so I thought this would be a good time to have a thread on the parenthetical topic, discussing to the new writers its proper uses and even its unconventional uses.
Parentheticals are sometimes referred to as "wryly" because there are times a writer would like to have his dialogue delivered "wryly," meaning to evoke emotion, tone, a certain pitch behind the dialogue: wryly, sarcastically, sadly, etc. These wrylies are usually in the form of an adverb, but there's no problem if a writer wishes to use a simple verb.
I suggest not to include a parenthetical to tell an actor how to read a line (angrily, happily, etc.) unless there's a good reason to do so. An actor goes through a process to discover their character and how they would act in certain situations. They much prefer to have the context of the scene and dialogue express to them how a character would deliver a certain line.
Usually a parenthetical will consist of words or phrases and not complete sentences, but there are exceptions, which I'll show shortly with a Captain Jack example.
If an action in a parenthetical needs to go on for more than one line in parenthesis format, then I suggest to place it in proper action/description format, but again, there are exceptions.
If you have more than one action/description in a parenthetical, then you'll use a semicolon to separate them.
Keep in mind, besides a parenthetical being used in dialogue, it could also be used in action/descriptions -- within reason.
The following are reasons why a writer may choose to use a parenthetical in a character's dialogue:
A writer might not want to break the flow, rhythm, pace or the tension of the moment by having the reader interrupted, where he has to break away to read the narrative, and then come back, so to avoid this the writer would put the action in the character's dialogue as a parenthetical: (cocks the gun).
A writer may use a parenthetical for something that's not obvious, contrary to what's apparent, etc. For example the character being sarcastic:
You look lovely, Sue.
Don't use a parenthetical in a redundant way:
He's behind you!
Example of a necessary way:
He's behind you!
A writer may want to use a parenthetical for an action in a one-sided phone call to indicate that the character is listening to someone (of course, an ellipsis "..." is effective also):
Bob answers the phone.
(grabs pen and paper)
Four o'clock. I'll be there.
A writer may want to use a parenthetical to convey a tone, a "dah" moment. For example from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" Will and Jack are in a sword fight:
(what do you expect?)
I've seen professional writers use a parenthetical to indicate an unspoken word in the dialogue, like the character was cut off before he could say it. I don't like this type of style, but I'll give an example of it anyway as not to let my biases effect what other writers enjoy doing.
Example from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" written by Steven Zaillian:
What are you talking (about)--
The Bible quotes on your desk.
Other instances where a writer might use a parenthetical:
If there is a group of characters, a parenthetical will be needed to make it clear whom the speaker is speaking to:
Enjoy your trip.
To indicate a character is speaking into a phone:
I'm leaving for Paris.
To indicate when a character is speaking in a foreign language:
I love you.
To indicate two characters speaking at the same time:
It wasn't my fault.
I want you to leave.
I mentioned in the "Dialogue question" thread how parentheticals could be used to save space to keep a block of action/description from moving to the next page, leaving a block of wasted white space, or to keep a block of dialogue from being split, where it ends up using the (MORE) format, which some writes like to avoid.
The use of parentheticals is just another legitimate tool in a writer's utility box to tell/build his story, but I strongly suggest to use this tool wisely, with purpose and effectiveness. It's overuse without a seemingly valid reason would only annoy and distract some readers.
well said. you've covered it all.
i do think a mention regarding the use of (beat) here is an important inclusion. you mention it in the other thread.
i, too, find it (beat) lacking in creativity or intent, almost a waste of a line. i think it's because it feels so unnatural... against the grain of the narration that takes you out of the moment. at least for me.
i use wrylies often in a first draft. it can allow your dialogue to 'sing' without unnecessary interruption which can literally kill the cadence.
there can be a rhythm to dialogue that that is intentional. stopping that for a line of action can be detrimental to its effectiveness.
wrylies also assist in the pace at which the dialogue moves and assists by keeping the reader on what's important, the messaging hidden within the dialogue.
i find that once the first draft is complete and i'm working on improving dialogue i am often able to remove some wrylies because the dialogue and/or the scene context communicates it better after the rewrite.
the Jack Sparrow is a great example and a terrific line, right? the key is that the wrylie is absolutely something an actor can play. it's an example of writing the subtext that sometimes can be so nuanced that a reader might miss it altogether, and defeat the purpose of the line altogether.
i find that writers are often redundant with their dialogue and action lines. this is the the 'thing' to be wary of with wrylies, too. the general rule is: it's better to 'show' us a reveal or action visually first, then use dialogue as a last resort.
but what writers, imo, should watch out for is giving 'information' which is exposition. i finished David Mamet's Masterclass and i love what he said: dialogue isn't there to provide information, it's there because one character is trying to get something from the other. that statement on its own, i think, can go a long way to improve one's dialogue exchanges.
Another value of a parenthetical is to avoid those ugly (CONT'D)s:
but the (con't) goes beside the character's name, not below it, so it doesn't actually add a line. at least in Final Draft.
finalact4, catcon was talking about taking the action and placing it in the dialogue as a parenthetical in order to save space. As I said previously, I believe action/description should use its proper format unless there is a valid reason to put it in a parenthetical.
catcon, you’re so right about “ugly (CONT’D)s.”
To new writers:
Using (CONT’D) to indicate a character’s continuous dialogue was standard practice, but it’s no longer necessary. It’s felt that the CHARACTER CUE is sufficient to cue the actor/reader that the character’s dialogue has in fact continues after some action.
Whether or not to use (CONT’D) after a character continues with his dialogue after a break with action depends on the writer’s personal preference, which use, or non use will have no bearing on his script’s sale, or rejection.
There are different variations: (CONT), (CONT’D) and (cont’d). The idea is to choose one version and stick with it. To be uniform/consistent and not to alternate which would cause confusion. The (CONT’D) version is the most popular among writers who use this style.
Some writers feel its use is necessary for the following reason:
To indicate a character is still speaking after a break with action line, or lines, where it’s a signal to the reader that the character is continuing.
These writers say a reader reads at a fast pace in order to get to their next script, so because of this fast back and forth rhythm with the characters, adding (CONT’D) after the character’s cue/name helps the reader SEE that the same character’s dialogue continues, thus avoiding confusion.
In my opinion, readers read left to right, so they’re gonna SEE the character’s name first before they see CONT’D, tipping them off that the same character continues, thus making CONT’D redundant and unnecessary.
The writers may say the readers read so fast the names become a blur, so the (CONT’D) at the end helps. If we are to believe this logic, then what about all the other character cue’s in a story. Are they all a blur also?
What would cause more confusion for a reader -- even with CONT’D -- is that the character names sound similar and/or are spelled similar. Or, the characters don’t have unique voices.
If the characters have distinctive voices, a reader should be able to name that character without the help of a character cue, or (CONT’D).
What happens when a writer has a half, or full page of narrative action, and then a character cue pops up with CONT’D? Huh? You don’t think this is gonna look odd and/or cause confusion?
What happens when it’s required to have a (V.O.), or (O.S.) cue after the character cue? Adding an additional cue such as (CONT’D) will make the page look messy and cluttered.
Personally, I believe adding (CONT’D) is unnecessary technical jargon that only gives the reader more words to read. When the dialogue splits/breaks at the bottom of the page and carries over to the next page, then (CONT’D) is necessary.
If something isn’t necessary, I don’t include it. It makes the pages look cleaner, more white, more airy and more breathing room, which make the pages more inviting and aesthetically pleasing.
If you, the writer, feels (CONT’D) is necessary, then use it. A professional reader will judge your story, not on his biases, or pet peeves. He’ll judge your story based on the merits of its major elements.
Personally, I find the use of (CONT’D) to be a hindrance when reading a screenplay, or as something to trip over like a pair of shoes kicked off at the top of the stairs. I recommend their disuse. I also recommend picking up the shoes at the top of the stairs.
The essay on parentheticals was worthy of a Sticky Note. Well done, JoeNYC.
But yeah, I don't like the look of (CONT'D)s though I still use them in my scripts. I don't use FD, but my concern would be during pagination or heavy editing. If we don't use (CONT'D), then you can confuse things if there's a dialogue and a description, at the bottom of one page, then the same speaker on the top of the next page. A (CONT'D) really works there.
Thus, I'm consistent, and use this structure - though I do try to eliminate their need via Wrylies, without overdoing them, to save space.
Here's something, though: For my first few years, I was UBER consistent, and even used (CONT'D) across scenes. So, if "Bob" spoke at the end of one scene, and he kept right on going (whether a CONTINUOUS scene or much later), I used to use (CONT'D) beside his character indicator. But not now; scenes are often not even shot on the same day, even continuous ones, so the (CONT'D) look really ugly there. Thus:
There are no rules.
With that out of the way, I will add that there are still good policies.
The most standard "continued" for a CHARACTER is (CONT'D), placed right after the CHARACTER name, on the same line.
Yes, it looks a little ugly. The lower-case (cont'd) really is more aesthetically appealing, I think, and it is the default in Fade In. (However, I changed it to upper-case in my own standard template in Fade In, because I do not think that anyone does himself a favor by becoming an "outlier" in any way. Stray from the herd and they'll see you and pick you off like a gazelle with a gimp leg! :))GOOD POLICY
Do not feel compelled to use the superfluous "Character continueds" (when a Character resumes a speech following an action) just because they were standard a long time ago.
The (CONT'D) serves no purpose. So why was it ever used? I cannot say for sure, but I suspect that it is a carryover from the typewriter era, when scene pages that were edited and distributed could possibly become confusing as things were deleted and added.GOOD POLICY
Set your screenwriting software to use (MORE)/(CONT'D) when a speech has to break at the bottom of a page. That is a nice feature.
Do not use Scene Continueds in spec scripts.
EDIT TO ASK: And, catcon, you have written more screenplays than anybody that I know, except for maybe a couple of pros here. Why are you using Microsoft Word instead of a screenwriting program? Try Fade In, available at a very reasonable price for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It has awesome features. And you do not have to pay for upgrades, or at least there have been no charges for upgrades so far, and I have no reason to think that there ever would be. Kent Tessman keeps the program well-oiled and makes improvements pretty regularly. Give it a try. There is a trial version available.
But why Word? Because I'm a power user and to organize my writing/outlining I didn't need somebody else's front-end and macros to get the job done. At least for my specs. I completely understand the value of the specialized toolset available in First (oops) Final Draft et al, especially once the script's getting into production.
But for specs? Even those who only have access to a portable Smith Corona can get by - so long as they have a scanner to move it on-line as a PDF for sending to people!
Here's an old screensnap (2016) I'd put up to show my typical outline document, which is in Word:
Outline for Mister Buttle's Great Odyssey
Note how it's over 60 pages of Q&A and organization and research, before I'd even begin to write the script in my actual script template.
Anyway, you can see my top toolbar of macros that more or less replace anything First Draft (oops, again) has.
In fact, I'd toyed with FD and the earlier versions really really resembled the Word Object (COM) that programmers could take and use as a foundation for their own custom programs. This was big in the 90s, about when FD and others came out, right? I'm sure for the version I saw around 2009 that they've taken it and redone it completely in Java or C++ or whatever, but its menu structure and layout sure were Word-like. Although I haven't seen the latest version, I imagine they've retained that look in order to retain the original customer base.
So as I started out with my writing, being so comfortable with Word I didn't want to lose anything as I strove to put my ideas on the page. Maybe I'd already rattled off my first script or two before I even knew about the specialized programs; I can't quite remember. But certainly, I can imagine somebody who's a two-finger typist really doing well with these pre-engineered writing programs, but I simply didn't need it.
On the other hand, as I get closer to a deal with a buyer someday, I know I'm going to have to pick up their particular program of choice, whether it's FD or Movie Magic etc., at least if I want to take advantage of the collaborative aspects throughout the polishing stages.
Yuck. Not looking forward to that. My crusty old mind doesn't adapt too well to change or learning new things these days! :eek:
I asked why, and you gave me an answer.
If you ever do decide to spend a few dollars, do not get Movie Magic Screenwriter. It is never upgraded anymore and has not been for years. I was a beta-tester for the current version, and that was years ago. The MMS team members were really nice people, but the company seems to have no interest in upgrading its screenplay application.
As for Final Draft, the only reason to get it is that it is still the predominant application. Fade In is superior and you do not have to keep paying dollars to upgrade. Fortunately Fade In can import the .fdx format and export back to that format.
You have an impressive set of macros in your Word toolbar.
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