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Excessive Use of Parentheticals

Parentheticals are used by screenwriters to give character direction.

Non-pro writers have a tendency to overuse them. They also sometimes use excessively long parentheticals (i.e. over a few words), sometimes spanning 10+ words.

Long parentheticals should be avoided, detailed information should be kept within action descriptions, not parentheticals.

Examples from professional scripts

For new screenwriters: parentheticals are placed within brackets under character names.

From Bridesmaids by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig:

ANNIE

(gasps/pretending)

Oh! I was having a nightmare, I was so scared. Good Morning.


TED

Good morning. You look beautiful.


ANNIE

(acting embarrassed)

What? No. I'm sure I look terrible. I just woke up. I'm sure I'm a mess.

From Bourne Ultimatum by Tony Gilroy et al:

BOURNE

(in Russian)

My argument is not with you.


KRAMER

A dirty section chief in league with a corrupt Russian Billionaire commits suicide when confronted by Jason Bourne. You couldn't make this stuff up.

(holds up the photo of Abbot dead)

You watched this happen?


ROSS

(with poster)

...This one's three years ago -- had half of Interpol after him -- disappeared...Turned up in Naples -- Berlin -- Moscow -- disappeared again...

(Daniels says nothing)

The girl he was on he run with -- Marie Kreutz -- she turned up dead halfway around the world, from a sniper's bullet...

(beat)

What connects the dots? Is it Treadstone?

From Chloe by Erin Cressida Wilson

FRANK

(to Mrs. Cunningham)

Movies in bed. Rest.


MRS. CUNNINGHAM

(intimate)

I don't know what I'd do without you.


DAVID

(quietly and alluring)

Name that tune.

How to use parentheticals properly

Actors do not like to be told when to nod, smile, laugh etc.

Only include character direction when the meaning would otherwise not be clear.

Avoid parentheticals longer than a few words.

Overuse of parentheticals unnecessarily slows the read and worst case, can spoil it.

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