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Screenwriting : Quick question as a noob by Surina Nel

Surina Nel

Quick question as a noob

I been working on my script and decided to add a part where a little boy (9) reads out of a book to a horse. The dialogue is fairly long. It reads as on the inserted picture.

What I want to know is should I break it up in small shorter paragraphs and how do I go about it?


Patricia Zell

The way you can break it up is to have James move around. I would move the book to James's hands and then have him move around ... maybe stand up and then sit back down. Also, maybe insert spoken reactions from James to the horse as he reads.

May I ask what purpose this excerpt plays within the plot? Unless it's vital, I would shorten it or eliminate it. To shorten it, you could have James talk about the passage and state it's gist.

An example could be :

James picks up the book BLACK BEAUTY and holds it out for the horse to see.


Remember when Black Beauty saw Ginger the last time?

He kneels before the horse and strokes his forehead.


Please don't be Ginger and give up. You can do this.

This shot gets the book into the action without the reading. James's dialogue implies that he has read the book to the horse before. Remember a good script is visual. I've learned that I don't have to include every detail (like James reading the story), but can infer that detail has happened.

Gary Smiley

I think as soon as the 'shabby old cab drove up beside ours...' that you would start with Ext. Road by Park, next line describe the Road and Park (lots of people how dressed, the year... what's the weather like...). Then continue with a Voice Over (V.O.) by James so the Viewer can simultaneously see the sights/actions that James describes. Repeat for the other paragraphs. That way, an actor can better memorize the chunks. I would say that big of paragraph may be 3 pages if written this way. Main thing is, you show and not tell. Just my opinion though... Oh, it's a good story!

Jim Boston

Surina, breaking up fairly-long dialog's been an issue with me, too.

Been spending the last two months going over scripts I'd written during the 1980-1994 period and getting them ready to upload to Stage 32...and, in refurbishing those old screenplays of mine, I managed to break up lengthy dialog by having the speaker, for instance, get up and walk (or sit down)...or go to the refrigerator and grab a cold drink.

In the script you're working on, how do you feel about James petting Paddy while still reading out loud...or Paddy barking at times? Maybe inserting actions such as those would break up the dialog.

All the very best to you, Surina! Thanks for posting!

Surina Nel

Thanks all for the replies. Patricia I do feel it's rather important scene. James is 9. Prince is old, basically with one foot in the grave, but James refuses to see this as Prince is with Paddy his best friends. I chose the specific dialogue as Prince is showing the same signs, only due to age. The plainly bones, the long neck. He is beyond his prime.

Gary and also Patricia I like the way of breaking up the dialogue with actions. I will get to work on doing that. Thank you for the suggestions.

Gary thank you for your feedback, but it's not my character's experience, but an experience he reads from a book..

Patricia Zell

Surina, but the excerpt James reads is about Ginger on the point of death. Why would James be reading it to Prince if he (James) can't accept that Prince is dying? What's James motive in reading the selection? Or, is this the first time James reads the book and this passage will help him accept the reality of Prince's condition? If it is, then you might want to show James reading the book to Prince at least a couple of times before this scene.

If this is the scene where James accepts Prince's condition, then have his actions during this scene reflect his growing understanding that Prince is on his last legs of life.

Rob Jones

Yeah, anytime I have long dialogues or monologues I'll try and find even small ways to break it up with action lines, scene heading-pov changes, and even just parenthesis. Like, break it up into a first small paragraph with his or someone's reaction or movement. The character clears their throat, etc. Pretty much what everyone else here suggested.

Doug Nelson

Is that the actual content of a real book? If it is - do you have the rights? There is no 9 year old actor in the world who can remember all those lines - I doubt that there are many/any adult actors. Break the dialog into shorter segments - say 3 or 4 lines, with a small action break between. That allows the Director the ability of multiple takes when the kid flubs it. He will and you don't want to have reshoot the entire long monologue, take after take.

Dan Guardino

Doug. If you are only using a small portion of the book you don't need to secure rights to it. Also a screenwriter is not responsible for securing rights. The Producer would be the person responsible. I agree it should be broken up.

Jonathan Edward Young

Have you ever seen a monologue like that in any script you admire?

Bill Costantini

Doug: He's reading from the book Black Beauty: an Autobiography of a Horse, one of the most significant novels of all time. No worries about memorizing lines or acquiring rights. The book is almost 140 years old and should be in the public domain.

Bill Costantini

Surina: Yes, you should break it up. I'm sure a director would cut once or twice to the horse in your story who is listening. You should include those cuts to Prince, and probably Paddy, too, if Paddy is also listening.

You would do it like this. After the first break, you would insert a line of description of what WE SEE, like

Prince's ears perk up as James reads. (Maybe Paddy's too)

THEN you'd continue to the next block of dialogue, with this heading


continue dialogue

THEN you'd add another line of description, if you'd break it up twice, which I think you should, and maybe the horse whinnies/neighs or Paddy moans when Black Beauty recognizes that it's Ginger. That is one of the saddest moments in literature - children's or adult.

Prince whinnies, and Paddy moans.


continue dialogue to completion.

A director will know how to exactly play that scene out to maximize the dramatic impact, and your breaks are only there to help visualize that while reading your script. A director could have a field day with that scene, and might put in many cuts that go back and forth from James, Prince and Paddy. Don't try that, and just give them an idea of the back and forth cuts. That scene would be a great emotionally impacting scene in the hands of a competent director.

Black Beauty, and its many film versions, are some of the most wonderful animal stories around. That book even helped changed laws regarding the ways that horses were treated back then. My cousin is a vet and horse owner, and everyone in her circle that I know were inspired to become vets and horse owners by Black Beauty. What a great and beautiful book, and I'm glad you're referencing it in your story. Now I gotta read Black Beauty again, and watch one of the film versions again, too.

Best fortunes to you in your creative endeavors, Surina!

Chaun Lee

Make the horse respond as he’s reading to humanize him a bit—like certain parts of the passage cause reactions—he stirs, he lifts his hooves, knocks the book out of his hand. Stuff like that will keep it a bit more interesting. Best of luck!!

Jerry Robbins

The book BLACK BEAUTY is now in worldwide public domain.

Surina Nel

The new version

Surina Nel

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Surina Nel


Surina Nel

Any suggestions and critique to improve it welcome. I won't take offense. I believe I can't fix if I don't know what I'm doing wrong

Bill Costantini

So this is an animated feature, correct? So there's no need to worry about a young actor remembering lines, or in animals acting.

So I think it's a really great scene. Very evocative, very visual. I don't think you're "over-directing." or overstepping your role. I don't think any director would have any bad feelings regarding how you've laid out the physical reactions devoid of called camera shots by Prince and Paddy. It's a very beautiful scene - very touching, bittersweet, and poignant, and very effective in representing the love between a child and his animal friends. Great job.

Fix the typos. Also, regarding reciting something...some writers use quotation marks around everything that's being recited. Some use just the word reading, like you did once. If you're going to use the word reading, use it under James' name each time.

One logic question...the parents are inside the house and can see and hear all of this going on inside the barn? Looking through an open window, I guess? If so, you then need to add a scene transition, like


Gina and (Dad's Name) look/gaze/observe through the open window at James, Prince and Paddy.

Followed by the dialogues.

Best fortunes to you in your creative endeavors, Surina!

Surina Nel

Thank you so much for the suggestions Bill. I really appreciate the input. I will be on those corrections asap.

Patricia Zell

I just thought of something else that has nothing to do with the script itself. Without going into a "lecture" about reading levels--something I used a lot as a teacher--the original Black Beauty's lexile score comes in at a 7th grade reading level. This means a 9 year old--unless he is an advanced reader-- would have difficulty reading the story. If you use the passage, make sure that you mention elsewhere in the script that James is an advanced reader--just set it up to make James reading the book realistic. Audiences are smart--educators in the audiences would question the reading level.

Dan MaxXx

Study scripts with big chunks of monologue and see on the page how great writers do it, how they keep the CAMERA moving. Before Tarantino, there was a guy named Paddy Chayefsky, known for big monologues.

Surina Nel

Thanks Patricia I'll definitely keep that in mind and work it in somewhere.

Dan I'll be sure to look those names up and see how they do it and how it works

Scott Young

Mark Miller's screenplay for Waiting for the Moon (1985) has some brilliant scenes that are hugely dialogue heavy, like your example. I've seen it out there on the Net, which is where I got my copy. It's worth looking for, especially because of your particular question.

Surina Nel

Tnx Scott. I'll be sure to find my own copy too

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