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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Screenwriting Discussion    Screenwriting Class  ›  Parentheticals (Wrylies) Moderators: George Willson
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eldave1
Posted: March 29th, 2019, 7:53pm Report to Moderator
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Parentheticals (sometimes referred to as wrylies) are those little descriptions that sometimes appear after a characterís name or in the middle of dialogue blocks, to convey information on tone, intent or action. They can be an effective writing tool in the following areas:

TO PROVIDE CLARITY ON WHO A CHARACTER IS SPEAKING TO.

A writer may a scene involving multiple characters in close proximity, all involved in the dialogue. A parenthetical can be an effective tool to make it clear to the reader to whom the dialogue is being directed.

Imagine an interrogation scene in a police station holding cell with a PERP, a DETECTIVE and a CAPTAIN.

PERP
I didnít do it. You got the wrong guy.

CAPTAIN
My senses tell me your as guilty as sin.
(to the Detective)
What do your senses tell you?

DECTECTIVE
He did it.

Now one could write this without the parenthetical by including an extra action line. For example.

CAPTAIN
My senses tell me your as guilty as sin.

The Captain turns towards the Detective.

CAPTAIN
What do your senses tell you?

DETECTIVE
He did it.

I prefer the parenthetical approach as it saves extra lines, including blank ones, allows the actor to determine how to convey the change in the target of the dialogue (e.g., they can turn or continue staring at the Perp)  Ė but regardless, the reader will know that the direction of the dialogue is moving.

TO PROVIDE CLARITY THAT AN OBJECT IS THE SUBJECT OF THE DIALOGUE.

Letís look at a scene where Dave is about to be busted for drinking while driving:

DAVE in the car. An unopened beer can is nestled between his legs.
A COP approaches, peers through the open window.

COP
License please.
(re: the beer can)
You been drinking?

Without the parenthetical one would have to write:

COP
License please.

The Cop looks at the beer can.

COP
You been drinking?

Results in an extra line of action and two blank lines. The parenthetical allows you to convey in 7 lines (including blanks) what would take seven without it.

TO CLEARLY INDICATE THAT ACTION IS TAKEN PLACE DURING (WITHIN THE DIALOGUE)

When we write, sometimes we imagine that the action takes place before or after someone speaks. In these cases, separate action lines are better and a parenthetical is not needed and it would probably add confusion. But there are times we imagine the dialogue taking place within the dialogue (while the character is speaking).

A parenthetical can be an effective tool here.

Letís have a scene where Mary is about to poison her husband Dave with some arsenic she put in his coffee. It could go like this:

MARY pours the contents of an Arsenic vial in a pot of steaming coffee. She approaches DAVE, at the dinette as he bites into a burnt piece of bacon.

MARY
So you really thinkÖ
(fills Daveís cup)
Divorce is the only option.

I like the parenthetical approach here. Again, it saves lines and it better meets what we imagined the scene to be. i.e., Mary is speaking as she is pouring. She is not pausing in between lines one and two.

TO CLEARLY INDICATE THAT THE DIALOGUE IS NONTRADITIONAL

There are many examples of this.

Accents. Sometimes when a character first speaks, we want our readers to hear him or her with an accent. A parenthetical is a good tool here. e.g.,

VLADIMIR
(Russian accent)
You will pay me the money.

Or, letís say a character is singing rather than speaking. e.g.,

DAVE
(singing)
You canít always get what you want.

Or, theyíre reading something. Letís say Dave is reading the bible.

DAVE
(reading)
And on the seventh day God rested.

TO PROVIDE SUBTEXT OR TONE THAT IS NOT OBVIOUS FROM THE WORDS OR ACTIONS OF THE CHARACTER.

Sometimes the tone or the intent of dialogue will not be clear without a little info for the reader. This is most often scene when the dialogue is sarcasm.

Letís say DAVE just finished winning $10,000 at the blackjack table. His friend TOM had convinced him that gambling would be fun. It could go something like:

DAVE with TOM at the blackjack table. A mound of hundred-dollar chips are stacked in front of Dave.

TOM
So how do you like gambling now?

DAVE
(sarcastically)
I hate it.

TO INDICATE A PAUSE IN DIALOGUE.

Sometimes a writer wants to indicate that a character is pausing in their dialogue. This may be the most used form of a parenthetical and it typically takes shape in the form of a ďbeat.Ē

Letís say Dave is about to tell his Wife he cheated on her.

DAVE
I need to talk to you about something.
(beat)
Iíve slept with another woman.

Beat is basically a scriptwriterís term for pause.  Perfectly okay to use. However, for me, since a line is going to be use anyway, I like to ramp up that beat with some action. For examples.

DAVE
I need to talk to you about something.
(looks down)
Iíve slept with another woman.

WHEN NOT TO USE PARENTHETICALS

For me, there are two areas where I think they should never be used. Others may disagree, but I donít think you can go wrong my avoiding using them in these circumstances.

To convey emotion that really should be conveyed by your dialogue or actions.  

Letís say Margaretís about to punish Peter for a misdeed. Then we see this:

MARGARET
(angry)
You're grounded for a week, Peter.
No TV. No video games. No phone.

PETER
(whining)
Oh, jeez Mum, that's just not fair.

Here, the dialogue should stand on its own. It should simply be:

MARGARET
You're grounded for a week, Peter.
No TV. No video games. No phone.

PETER
Oh, jeez Mum, that's just not fair.

When it takes up more than one line.

Letís stay with the above example and assume that in the scene Margaret is also physically taking away those items. Donít do this:

MARGARET
You're grounded for a week, Peter.
(Margaret picks up Peterís phone,  
video game controller
and turns off the TV).
No TV. No video games. No phone.

Itís just too clunky. If you canít get a parenthetical in a single line Ė you might want to take it as a clue that you need a separate action line.

When used to describe a state of being that is obvious from the action or dialogue.

Example:

Dave runs towards Mary Ė reaches her.
DAVE
(breathless)
Thank God I found you.

All this use would not really cause a problem for me. I donít really think itís necessary. We know Dave is exerted. He ran there.

ARE PARENTHETICALS REQUIRED?

Not really. They are merely a tool available to add clarity and to enhance the read. If you are not comfortable with them you will find other tools to achieve the same writing objective. That being said, they are a perfectly acceptable tool to use.

COUNTER VIEWS

There is a school of thought that, while the use of a parenthetical can be effective (see the reasons listed above), an over use of them can create clutter and diminish the read.  In other words, they should be used almost as a last resort  For example, only use a parenthetical for an action line when a regular action line wouldnít do the trick.  

Taking the coffee example from above. It could be written as:

MARY pours the contents of an Arsenic vial in a pot of steaming coffee. She approaches DAVE, at the dinette as he bites into a burnt piece of bacon.

MARY
So you really thinkÖ?

Mary fills Daveís cup.

MARY
Divorce is the only option.

It may also be strategic to avoid the use of a parenthetical within a dialogue block if it is a particularly long piece of dialogue. The use of an action line instead may create more white space (more pleasing the readerís eye) by breaking up the long block of dialogue.  

All writers need to keep in mind that we really donít know who is reading our script so you may want to error on the side of safety. That is, if you can avoid a parenthetical, avoid it because your unknown reader may be one that frowns upon them. Conversely, almost no one is going to downgrade a script because someone did not use a parenthetical.

Iíll use BOLD SCENE HEADINGS as an example of the point. I love them and use them on all of my scripts that I submit to Agencies/Production houses and all scripts I post online. However, I know that some readers frown on them.  So, when I submit to screenwriting contests, I never use Bold headings knowing that there is a risk that someone thinks they are technically wrong and could result in a downgrade. Sure, I would disagree with them - but that is irrelevant. Conversely, I also know that no one is going to downgrade the script for not using them.  So out they go for contests. Some readers view parentheticals similarly.




My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts

Revision History (3 edits; 1 reasons shown)
eldave1  -  April 3rd, 2019, 11:41am
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Warren
Posted: March 30th, 2019, 1:30am Report to Moderator
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Well I obviously agree with all of this. Well said, Dave.


To View All My Scripts Please Use The Link Below

My Website

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eldave1
Posted: March 30th, 2019, 10:27am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Warren
Well I obviously agree with all of this. Well said, Dave.


thanks


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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ReneC
Posted: April 1st, 2019, 10:12am Report to Moderator
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Pretty much spot on. They are a useful tool for providing clarity, to make your intention known.

The only counterpoint I'll add is about using action during dialogue. The example of the coffee being poured isn't a good one, I would leave that out entirely as it is an unnecessary action and one we already expect to happen. I'd reserve the parenthetical for the unexpected, or the absolutely necessary beat that has to occur right at that moment in dialogue.

And remember, just because that's how you wrote it doesn't mean that's how it will play out. Actors can change things up, and often will. What's important is that your intention was made and the actors will run with that.


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eldave1
Posted: April 1st, 2019, 10:34am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from ReneC
Pretty much spot on. They are a useful tool for providing clarity, to make your intention known.

The only counterpoint I'll add is about using action during dialogue. The example of the coffee being poured isn't a good one, I would leave that out entirely as it is an unnecessary action and one we already expect to happen. I'd reserve the parenthetical for the unexpected, or the absolutely necessary beat that has to occur right at that moment in dialogue.

And remember, just because that's how you wrote it doesn't mean that's how it will play out. Actors can change things up, and often will. What's important is that your intention was made and the actors will run with that.


I personally disagree on the coffee - but - agree that many would agree with you. I'm still looking for someone to write the counterpoint for the "stick thread" so that everything can be on one post. I am sure they will concur/include your exception (coffee) in some way.


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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JEStaats
Posted: April 1st, 2019, 10:51am Report to Moderator
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I hate to kill the thread (LOL) but this is the best guideline (not a rule or standard) I've read. I'm going to print this one out. Thanks, Dave.
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eldave1
Posted: April 1st, 2019, 11:11am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from JEStaats
I hate to kill the thread (LOL) but this is the best guideline (not a rule or standard) I've read. I'm going to print this one out. Thanks, Dave.


Thanks, mate. Glad you found it useful.


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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ReneC
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Quoted from eldave1


I personally disagree on the coffee - but - agree that many would agree with you.


See, this is a perfect example of why this hardly matters. There is no right or wrong here, no matter what the rule gurus say. As long as the intention is clear, and as long as your writing is engaging, nobody cares if a parenthetical is used correctly or not. It's certainly not going to make or break your script.

Having a guideline like this is a great place to start for everyone who wants to learn how to use them. Beyond that, just limit them so you don't pepper your script with unnecessary beats.


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JohnI
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Excellent Dave.

Youíve read my work so you know my earlier versions are filled with Parentheticals. I usually have a ďParenthetical paring sessionĒ after the first write.

I ask myself
A) Is it the best expression of what I want
B) will it save lines from writing action
C) Is it necessary
D) Can I express it better

Usually those four - except for some obvious needs or omits cover it
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CrackedAces
Posted: April 1st, 2019, 1:11pm Report to Moderator
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Right on, Dave!




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Philostrate
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Quoted from JEStaats
This is the best guideline (not a rule or standard) I've read. I'm going to print this one out.


I can't agree more. Thanks, Dave.



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Dreamscale
Posted: April 1st, 2019, 2:19pm Report to Moderator
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I'll get to this when I can, Dave, but I will say for the most part, I agree with everything you've written here.

My only issue(s) is exactly what I've said over and over on the other thread, which involves "being necessary" and "used in moderation".

Rene's 2 posts here are spot on for me, but I will add that an overabundance of unnecessary wrylies, or really anything outside the norm, can be a script killer, because some peeps, like me, will just give up if the first few pages are loaded down with these types of things.


To ski or not to ski...that's not even a question.
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eldave1
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Quoted from JohnI
Excellent Dave.

Youíve read my work so you know my earlier versions are filled with Parentheticals. I usually have a ďParenthetical paring sessionĒ after the first write.

I ask myself
A) Is it the best expression of what I want
B) will it save lines from writing action
C) Is it necessary
D) Can I express it better

Usually those four - except for some obvious needs or omits cover it

Makes perfect sense


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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eldave1
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Quoted from CrackedAces
Right on, Dave!


Thanks


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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eldave1
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Quoted from Philostrate


I can't agree more. Thanks, Dave.



Thanks


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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eldave1
Posted: April 1st, 2019, 4:38pm Report to Moderator
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Quoted from eldave1

Makes perfect sense


Look forward to what you come with


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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eldave1
Posted: April 3rd, 2019, 11:43am Report to Moderator
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Okay - since no one came forward - I edited the original post to include what I think is the counter view (i.e., I was trying to get this all in one post for newbies)

I did my best with the counter point (I don't agree with it) - but hope i did it justice.


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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Dreamscale
Posted: April 3rd, 2019, 5:16pm Report to Moderator
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Quoted from eldave1
Okay - since no one came forward - I edited the original post to include what I think is the counter view (i.e., I was trying to get this all in one post for newbies)

I did my best with the counter point (I don't agree with it) - but hope i did it justice.


I'm sorry, Dave.  It's been a busy week, and not getting less busy.

I will still provide my thoughts in more detail, like I said I would, but I can't tell you when that will be.



To ski or not to ski...that's not even a question.
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eldave1
Posted: April 3rd, 2019, 5:18pm Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Dreamscale


I'm sorry, Dave.  It's been a busy week, and not getting less busy.

I will still provide my thoughts in more detail, like I said I would, but I can't tell you when that will be.



No problem


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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