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Old 04-02-2019, 07:33 AM   #1
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: New York City
Posts: 1,559
Default Parentheticals

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:

You cheated.

(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:

(to Sue)
Enjoy your trip.

To indicate a character is speaking into a phone:

(on phone)
I'm leaving for Paris.

To indicate when a character is speaking in a foreign language:

(in French)
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.
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