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Using Actor's Directions in a Screenplay

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Misty Faucheux•updated: 6/23/2009

Here is a brief guide to adding actor's directions to the dialogue in your screenplay.

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    Using Actor's Direction

    The actor’s direction is a way of explaining the behavior of a character during dialogue. This is different than the set up and scene description as this happens actually while the conversation, or monologue, is occurring. In this way, it plays by its own rules and has formatting and restrictions that are unique to the situation.

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    After the character’s name appears and above the piece of spoken dialogue is where you will put the direction for the first line if there is one. This will be done in parenthesis and will be restricted to a quick description that can then be openly interpreted by the actor and director. This can also be done in between lines, but only if there is a full change in the behavior of the character or a pause that takes place.

    Usually the description describes a quality, but it can also just be a quick action. This all depends on your preference as an author, but try not to be too excessive in this. At the same time you want to use action words in active voice to maintain energy and keep the reader from getting bored with your word choices.

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    There are a number of different ways to insert these actor’s directions into the dialogue, yet the format is usually similar. Here are a couple examples:



    What are you doing?


    How are you doing?

    (Looks down to the ground, then back up at Stacy)

    So you are not going to answer me?

    Make sure that you only use the actor’s directions when they are absolutely needed and keep them descriptive enough that it maintains the message you are trying to convey to the reader. This is a difficult balancing act to do when you are trying to keep the text open enough for director and actor’s interpretation.

    If the dialogue or scene set up has been already established with what you were going to put in the actor’s direction, then you really can avoid the actor’s direction all together. Keep it clear and to the point, but also warranted and important for the situation for which you are writing.