Screenwriting : Where would you put this action and why? by Craig D Griffiths

Craig D Griffiths

Where would you put this action and why?

JOHN

You are an idiot.

Dismissing everything Steve has just said.

Or would you set up the dialogue.

Dismissing everything Steve has just said.

JOHN

You are an idiot.

Or third option.

JOHN

(dismissive)

You are an idiot.

I know it depends on the story.   But what is your thoughts and thought processes around something like this?

WL Wright

I am going with the 3rd option. I am assuming we know about Steve.

Robert Sacchi

I would set up the dialogue if what they are discussing is relevant to the plot. If it's just to illustrate how these people talk to each other it would seem the set up would only waste time.

Craig D Griffiths

Damian Lloyd yep. Just an example. The question is do you like to setup a line, or clarify a line when you write? And why?

WL Wright I am a big fan of compact writing. The Dismissive is more of a performance beat.

Robert Sacchi I flop back and forth. I am rereading a script to get up to speed for more writing and I am moving things to setup.

Thanks

Doug Nelson

Action + dialog: John rolls his eyes. JOHN ' You're an idiot Steve'. This gives me a money shot on John and a reaction shot on Steve.

Craig D Griffiths

Cool Doug.

Anthony Moore

I would go with something more like this -

John replies, waving a hand and turning away dismissively.

JOHN

You're an idiot.

Stephen Carter

John walks away.

JOHN

You're an idiot.

Rebekah Spidell

I would go with the third version, its most concise. The first two seem to be excessive in the sense that if John is being dismissive, one would assume it' s of what Steve had just said. Also, it leaves enough freedom for the actors and director to play with how to best shape the exact action and flow of the scene.

Phil Parker

I agree with Doug. Unless the meaning of what the character is saying is not clear, you don't need to tell us the same thing via both description and dialogue.

In this instance, it feels like a roll of the eyes, shaking of the head in disbelief, throwing hands up in the air in frustration and walking away, etc. would convey the character's meaning without the dialogue.

Dan Guardino

I agree with Doug. I always try to show what a character does before their dialogue. That way the reader will subconsciously know who will be talking next and it will make the screenplay flow better. Obviously this is just my own opinion and not any kind of a rule.

Stephen Carter

To expound:

Dismissing everything Steve has just said. - Don't put anything on the page you can't see or hear.

Dismissing everything Steve has just said. - See above. Also, there's no need to tell an actor how to act. And it's frowned upon

(dismissive) - Again, don't tell an actor how to act.

Damion's answer works because the dialog carries intent - If you need/want action then something like this is cleanest and will be least likely dinged by readers:

John walks away.

JOHN

You're an idiot.

The actor and director will decide if he gives a dismissive wave, shakes his head, rolls his eyes, or delivers the line in a sing-song way to keep the mood light. Keep it simple, keep it clean, make it a quick read with interesting characters and a good story and your script will be more widely read. That is the best you can hope for.

Dan MaxXx

Harrison Ford would simply act it out than say. He's known for not saying dialogue.

Even the 3 words "You're an Idiot" is long. Maybe cut it down to just "Idiot." I am assuming the character is looking at the other person. The camera will capture physical mannerisms/physical tells = acting.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Both the implicit and explicit meaning is already clear in the dialogue, assuming the scene prior to already created the context. It's blatantly clear. No need for further clarity. Therefore, all examples show redundancy, overwriting. I like Dan M's suggestion of cutting it to just "Idiot." Much more natural. To answer as far as "style," again, it depends on the context. You gotta know the characters, their proclivities, their relationship to each other, what's happening prior, what's happening after, what is specifically needed for this particular scene and how it fits, what is the creative intent of the story and script, etc. As far as production, no need to tell actors, directors anything more, because, again, the implicit/explicit meaning is clear. So "shakes head, rolls eyes, dismissing what Steve just said"—it's overwriting. My general thoughts: Why speculate on the minutia without knowing the full picture or context? It has no relevance otherwise. As far as comparing "tools" all three examples shown are options that work well depending on context, desired effect, and personal preference.

John Iannucci

I am not an idiot! LOL just kidding - wait maybe I am.

Dan Guardino

Craig. I know this is just an example but if it was in someone's real screenplay I would ask why did the screenwriters say "Dismissing everything Steve has just said" because you don't write what someone doesn't do on film. A screenwriter should only write the character's action we can see on film.

Doug Nelson

If I can't see it, I can't film it!

Joshua Keller Katz

Action that describes how you intend dialogue to be delivered should come before that dialogue. I prefer parentheticals, but they aren't necessary if it can easily be inferred through the contextual implication. In this instance neither narrative nor parenthetical seem necessary. The context is likely there.

Debbie Croysdale

I would not write either of first two examples. I don't know the whole context of the scene but judging on what given, I would go with third.

JOHN You're an idiot.

I REALISE you want to portray that he really should have listened to Steve because its likely a pre cursor moment to a key emotional beat, you want to emphasize for an important scene. I would do this via the tool of dialogue. EG. JOHN You're an idiot. STEVE Deaf ears, f... you, find out for yourself. I'm done.

Craig D Griffiths

I am liking the discussion. But to cut down on the critique of a badly worded example, I will rephrase as a model.

action.

dialogue.

or

dialogue.

action.

I know it depends. But what do you tend to do and why?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Well, again, it depends on context. That informs any writing decision I make, not personal tendencies. ;)

Craig D Griffiths

Beth Fox Heisinger aren’t you the person that determines the context, and therefore your tendencies would play into it?

Do you have a preference?

Beth Fox Heisinger

The story determines and informs the context, so, no, I do not have a preference nor rely on any personal tendency. It’s whatever works best.

Jason Mirch

Hey Craig D Griffiths - just to play devil's advocate here, do you need the action in this scenario? I would argue that the line "You are an idiot" implies that John is dismissing everything Steve has just said. I wonder if it is redundant in this case? Obviously, I haven't read the whole scene, but the dialogue itself already informs much of the action. Curious to hear your thoughts.

Stephanie Bourbon (Olivieri)

I wouldn't write dismissive anywhere. Trust your actors.

Stephen Carter

Generally, action precedes dialog, unless you want the dialog over black, then you write: OVER BLACK. So, SCENE HEADING, ACTION, DIALOG. Most often, you want to set the scene before the actor speaks.

Within a scene, that still applies. We want to know what the character is doing before we care about what he is saying. Of course, there are always exceptions. If, for example, what the character says is more important, or you're attempting to save the action as a reveal. Even so, something should set it up, like CLOSE on John's lips, or CU John. Or something of that nature.

Roxanne Paukner
3
Maric Yates

I think ‘dismissive’ is directorial. If the characters have been developed previously and an antagonistic atmosphere has been created through dialogue, then using the descriptive ‘dismissive’ might be superfluous. Assuming you have cast capable and creative actors, they will intuit how to express themselves, perhaps in a way you have not anticipated, possibly in a superior manner.

The writer’s contribution is the dark spaces (the words). The actor’s contributions are the white spaces- places that the writer has not filled in with preconceived ideas. The more white space, the greater the possibility of creativity by the actor.

Personally, I find myself unconsciously putting way too much on the page, which betrays a lack of trust in the actors and the director.

James Michener once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

I constantly review my material and rewrite by shrinking action line explanations and superfluous dialogue. Except when posting on stage32. Then I go on and on and on and...

Brian Butler

The second.

Liz Randol

Damn. looks like my facebook page on a bad day!

Craig D Griffiths

Thanks everyone.

I think I can summarise this.

If it is acting direction (also for the reader) it would be before the dialogue or in parentheticals.

If it an outcome of what was said it would come after.

There could be a line where either would work. This would then definitely be a style call for the writer.

So like everything we do. It must be an answer to the question, “what do we want the reader to feel”.

Robert Sacchi

You're welcome.

Robert Sacchi

About having John say "idiot" vs "You're an idiot". What John says tells more about John. People don't always speak in a word efficient manner. Some people tend to say more than they have to. How does John normally speak? What does his words say about his personality?

Craig D Griffiths

Exactly. Friends develop short hand. I have a friend that worked with me years ago. We involved in issue that involved a person that had a tennis court and the size was wrong. This thing dragged out for a year. It ended up being nothing. If my friend wants to tell me something is a waste of time he say “tennis camp”.

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