Screenwriting: How To Write Parenthetical


When a screenwriter creates a screenplay, he /she need to give the characters direction on what they should be doing while the action is occurring. This is known as a parenthetical. But, screenwriters must know how to write a parenthetical before they can just add one in.

Step 1: Using a Parenthetical

A parenthetical is a screenwriting technique of writing information about what a character is feeling or doing. For example, if a character should be feeling depressed, the screenwriter would write in the parenthetical that the character is curled up in the corner of a bed and that the character is crying - or something along those lines.

Parentheticals should add something about the action going on, but they need to be short. Screenwriters should be as descriptive as possible, but the information needs to be brief.

Parentheticals, however, should be used sparingly. Oftentimes if the dialogue is not setting up the scene correctly, then it should probably just be rewritten. A screenwriter shouldn't have to have an additional explanation about what's going on within the dialogue. The dialogue alone should convey that.

Another reason to avoid the parenthetical is that a screenwriter could be stepping on the toes of the director and actor. Directors often have their own interpretation about how things should be delivered and to what direction a scene should take.

Some directors, however, want their actors to take the lead when it comes to interpreting scripts. For example, in the same scene that was mentioned earlier, perhaps the actor wants to interpret the depression in the scene as hitting his head against the wall. This may better convey what the actor is feeling. So, screenwriters should leave the direction to the directors and actors.

Step 2: How to Write in Parentheticals

If a parenthetical is, however, necessary, screenwriters need to ensure that they are following the screenwriting rules. Parentheticals should be left indented from 1.5 to 3 inches depending on preference. Right indentations should be between 2 and 3.5 inches.

To view an example of a parenthetical, see below:

                                (crying and sleepy)
                Is it really time to leave?

                                (closely hugging Josey)
                I'm sorry, honey, but it is.

Again, the information needs to be as short as possible and used only sparingly.

Step 3: Other Uses for Parenthetical

Parentheticals can also be used as when a character is speaking, but then some action interrupts the person. Then, later they continue speaking. This is known as the (continuing) notation. For an example, see below:

                                (walking around her room)
                I'm not sure how I'll ever get all of this in my suitcase

Josey walks around the room and starts pulling clothes out of a drawer. She starts folding them up and putting them in a suitcase.

                I guess that I'll have to come back for some of it.

The continuing notation is more acceptable than standard parentheticals, but again they should only be used when it is necessary.

Overall, screenwriters should try avoiding parentheticals. Instead, they should read through their script and clean up the dialogue. Parentheticals may be used in first drafts and later removed when the dialogue has been edited.