ASK DR. FORMAT: Screenplay Formatting Tips - Texts, IMs, E-Mails, Skype and More

Dave Trottier continues his 30 years of giving Script's readers stellar screenplay formatting advice, sharing tips on formatting texts, instant messages, e-mails, Skype and more.
Author:
Publish date:

Dave Trottier continues his 30 years of giving Script's readers stellar screenplay formatting advice, sharing tips on formatting texts, instant messages, e-mails, Skype and more.

Click to tweet this article to your friends and followers!

Dave Trottier continues his 30 years of giving Script's readers stellar screenplay formatting advice, sharing tips on formatting texts, instant messages, e-mails, Skype and more.

This year is the 30th Anniversary of Script magazine. It is also the 30th Anniversary of the “Ask Dr. Format” column, the longest running screenwriting column in the industry.

The following is an excerpt from the new 7th edition of The Screenwriter’s Bible, available on Amazon and www.keepwriting.com..

QUESTION

How do I format text messages in a screenplay? Do I write them as dialogue?

ANSWER

I am frequently asked how to format text messages as well as instant messages, email messages, FaceTime exchanges, Skype conversations, and TV announcements, so I will take this opportunity to explain how to format all of these while maintaining the script’s “readability.” There are several methods, depending on your dramatic or comedic purpose. All of the examples below are correctly formatted.

In the first example, Sharon receives a text message from Alice and she (Sharon) shows her friend Cynthia.

INT. SHARON’S ROOM – DAY

Sharon shows Cynthia her iPhone. The display reads: “I’m engaged!”

It’s important to put quotation marks around any words in narrative description that you want the movie-going audience to see and read.

If the text message is misspelled or abbreviated, show that (“I luv U,” for example). It’s okay to include emojis (also called emoticons). If you want to emphasize the message (make it pop out) so that the reader doesn’t miss it, then you might use the following approach:

Sharon displays her iPhone to Cynthia.

ON SHARON’S IPHONE SCREEN

The text message reads: “I’m engaged!”

BACK TO SCENE

Or: present the content of the text (IM or email) as follows:

The text reads:

“I’m engaged.”

If you wish, you may indent the message as if it were dialogue.

The text reads:

“I’m engaged.”

Here is another example involving a TV set:

Sharon jumps joyfully from her bed and texts: “Guess what happened?”

She stops when she hears her blaring TV set.

ON SHARON’S TV

A NEWS REPORTER holds a paper in his hand.

NEWS REPORTER
This just in. Alice is engaged.

BACK TO SHARON’S ROOM

Image placeholder title

The same basic format for all

Naturally, you can use the same format for emails, text messages, instant messages, and so on; and you can use a variety of styles.

Here is an additional example:

Sharon glances at the email on her laptop. It reads: “I’m engaged!”

Handle Skype and FaceTime conversations in a similar way.

Sharon’s Skype BEEPS and she sees “Cyn27” on her monitor.

Since both Sharon and Cynthia (via Skype) are visible at the same location (Sharon’s room, in this instance), just write out their conversation like regular dialogue. If you feel it’s important to indicate which character appears on Skype, just adjust the character cue as follows:

CYNTHIA (SKYPE)
Are you there?

One character could be off screen (O.S.) at any point in the conversation just as in a regular conversation.

Chyrons

Suppose you want to show the texts spelling out on the screen in conversation bubbles or balloons (as in comic books). The term for that is chyron (pronounced KY-ron). Just write:

Smart phone in hand, Sharon jumps joyfully from her bed.

CHYRON of Sharon’s text: “FYI, I heard Alice is engaged. <3<3<3”

CHYRON of Cynthia’s reply: “To Bozo?! No way.”

In most cases, you don’t need to indicate CHYRON BALLOON, CHYRON BUBBLE, CHYRON CRAWL (as with sports scores or stock prices crawling across the bottom of your TV screen), or CHYRON “WHATEVER” in your spec script. That is normally decided in post-production.

If you wish, use the following method, especially for a long electronic conversation:

CHYRONS OF SHARON AND CYNTHIA’S TEXTS

Sharon: “FYI, I heard Alice is engaged. <3<3<3”

Cynthia: “To Bozo?! No way.”

Intercuts

Here’s another version featuring Sharon and Cynthia at separate locations:

INTERCUT TEXT EXCHANGE – SHARON/CYNTHIA

CHYRONS appear above their heads as they text each other:

Sharon: “FYI, I heard Alice is engaged. <3<3<3”

Cynthia: “To Bozo?! No way.”

Italics

Some writers prefer italics. In general, I prefer not to use them because they are a little harder on the eyes than standard text. However, you may confidently write the above exchange using italics, as follows:

Sharon: FYI, I heard Alice is engaged.<3<3<3

Cynthia: To Bozo?! No way.

Get our free download full of Dave's screenwriting formatting tips!

Writing texts as dialogue

How about one more method? These days, a few writers are writing text messages in standard dialogue blocks. Since only dialogue is dialogue, they alter the format as follows:

Sharon jumps from her bed.

SHARON (TEXT)
FYI, I heard Alice is engaged. <3<3<3

CYNTHIA (TEXT)
To Bozo?! No way.

Two golden keys

As you can see, you have a choice of formats, depending on your purpose, the amount of space you have, and how readable you want your script to be. You may even think of variations on any of the above themes.

Use the method or methods that best suit you, but keep in mind two golden keys: First, be clear. Second, be consistent in what style you use. You cannot afford to lose or confuse the reader.

Oh, and one other thing: keep writing!

More articles by Dave Trottier

Sign up for Dave's next Screenwriters University online course, The Nitty Gritty of Spec Scripts: Writing Strong Action and Dialogue

REGISTER TODAY! 

Image placeholder title