Barking up the wrong tree
Sometimes, it’s the easy things that can trip you up in a script. Take yelling and screaming, for instance. Seems like it would be an easy thing to indicate, but there are some common problems I’m seeing in scripts that are derailing what would otherwise be a smooth read.
CLAUDIA (yelling) Knock it off.
Screenwriting is all about efficiency. So is there anything that can be done to streamline this example? Of course there is:
CLAUDIA Knock it off!
Simply removing the parenthetical and adding an exclamation point is all you need to indicate someone’s yelling a line.
The Boss barks at his secretary. BOSS Where's my cup of coffee?
So does the boss literally bark at his secretary (“Woof-woof!”) and then politely ask her for a cup of coffee? I don’t think that’s the intention. Two simple changes make things more immediately clear.
The Boss barks at his secretary: BOSS Where's my cup of coffee?!
Whenever your action line relates to the following line of dialogue, simply use a colon after the line. And don’t forget to add an an exclamation point if the person is shouting.
That little fix may seem like a trivial thing. But it can certainly avoid any confusion, like in the following example:
Guinevere rounds the corner. Comes face to face with -- The HEADLESS HORSEMAN! Shocked, she cries out. GUINEVERE You scared me!
So does she cry out and then emphatically say her line of dialogue? Or does she cry out her line of dialogue?
The way it’s written, I would say she cries out or screams and then delivers her line of dialogue. But if that wasn’t the intention, you would simply need to change the period to a colon:
Guinevere rounds the corner. Comes face to face with -- The HEADLESS HORSEMAN! Shocked, she cries out: GUINEVERE You scared me! The two embrace. GUINEVERE Next time, knock and I'll let you in.
A very different vibe indeed! Using a colon can make all the difference sometimes.
What aspects of screenwriting trip you up?