Screenwriting : Emphasis in Punctuation by Imo Wimana Chadband

Imo Wimana Chadband

Emphasis in Punctuation

A good night to all.

I've got a quick question on punctuation, in terms of giving emphasis to a word, or phrase. Consider the following:

1) How could you?

2) How could you?!


Which is correct for a situation where someone would be enraged as they hurl these words? I've seen scripts use #2. If there are other ways you'd show emphasis in the phrase, feel free to share.


Rosalind Winton

Hi Imo

You could use an action line, for instance...


I can't believe you did that.

Imo clenches his fists tightly, he look really mad, shouts in anger.


How could you?

Or, you could use parenthesis...


(Shouts in anger)

How could you?

I prefer to use action lines to explain how a piece of dialogue should be interpreted, but I think it's subjective and I don't think there is a right or wrong way, I think using capitals is a 'no' as a general rule, but rather than worry about the punctuation of it and hope an actor understands how you want it interpreted, using action lines or parenthesis makes it really clear :)

Dan Guardino

Number 2 works and number 3 would only be used if the person was shouting. Example an explosive was about to go off and the character would yell GET OUT OF HERE! If you want to emphasis one word you underline the word. I don't do that very often if at all. I like to let the actor do their thing.

Rutger Oosterhoff

Number 2. And if you want to emphasis just one word you under line it. But not in this sentence.

Pierre Langenegger

What Dan said, and regardless of the advice you receive, make sure you double-check the formatting so it's correct and looks professional.

Karen Stark

I believe it's just the exclamation mark Imo, because it's a statement not a question.

Imo Wimana Chadband

Ah! Thanks for the input guys. I haven't utilized the 'underline' in my writing, so that's something new I just learned that I can implement in those instances.

Imo Wimana Chadband

Rosalind: I go the route of using the action at times, but at times it just isn't necessary to make that many extra words when a punctuation can create the same meaning, you know. I try to keep it tight where I can.

Imo Wimana Chadband

Karen: you just might have a point there lol I probably could have used a better example, but I got the gist of how to tackle it in general. Thanks for the link. Clicked that bookmark for future reference :D

Dan Guardino

Karen. That is for normal writing because quotations should not be used in dialogue.

Doug Nelson

Professional or amature actors; you got a Director that knows what he's doing?

Joshua Katz

If I'm understanding the question properly: you are asking how to write dialogue in a way that conveys to the reader an exact tone when read. If so, punctuation does not effectively convey how a line is delivered; only a possible tone. That tone is also subject to many inflections with punctuation. Therefore #1 and #2 are not the proper way.

At the very least, you should not have a bunch of dialogue with exclamation marks and/or question marks in your script.

In my opinion: only #3 shows any suggested word emphasis, but because the whole sentence is allcaps, there is no way to know how you intend the words to be read.

If there is a word or words you'd like to highlight in a script for the suggestion that they are delivered in a certain way, usually allcaps or underlining the word is acceptable. Just keep it consistent, and to a minimum.

If you are looking for an actor to convey a tone for the whole of the dialogue, include a brief parenthetical between the character name and dialogue to convey that tone. Also use this sparingly. Ultimately, no matter how much information you include, each reader will draw his or her own conclusion.

Karen Stark

Yes Dan, your right, however, writing is writing, or at least it should be.

Dan MaxXx

Steven Canal’s first page of his original tv pilot, “Pose”. How many “screenwriting rules” is he breaking?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yeah, Karen, that link is for editorial writing, not necessarily screenwriting. Sure, grammatically those examples are typical, but I have seen all three of Imo's examples used quite often in professionally written screenplays—which are to be performed on screen as they are not intended to be just reading material. Generally, dialogue tends to be more informal, certainly more so than editorial writing. However, it truly depends on the context of the scene(s) and the relationship, situation, and circumstances between characters that give the words and punctuation meaning and tonal inflection. As Dan G said, you can underline a word for emphasis, but, for me, I prefer to use italics. Much of screenwriting can be a matter of style choice. The use of "?!" implies incredulous shock or surprise or disgust or humor, etc. I'd use it in a heartbeat if I felt it worked effectively within the context in which I am writing. ;)

Imo Wimana Chadband

This has been fruitful indeed! You guys...and gals(^_^), always bring great perspective and knowledge. Much thanks!

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