Lazy Bee Scripts
Formatting Stage Directions

Formatting Stage Directions
'By indirections, find directions out.'
- Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2, Scene 1
This page explains how to format stage directions for publication in the Lazy Bee Scripts house style.  (Other publishers may want other things.)
This gives some basic information about the way we lay out stage scripts. Following this information will help us publish your script (if we accept it for publication!)  If you are about to write a script, you may find this helpful.  If you've already finished the writing, then, before you start reformatting your script to meet the technical guidelines, first ask yourself whether or not we want it, then ask us the same question!
If we accept your script for publication, we will reformat it according to our House Style.  When we do this, there is a risk that we will lose some of the subtleties in your text.  The following guidelines will help you prepare the script for publication, and will minimise the risk of our editors doing damage to it!
  • All stage directions should look the same (and should look different from speeches)
  • To achieve this, we put all stage directions in brackets (and in bold type, but see below)
  • The corollary is that we will treat anything in the body of a script that appears in round brackets as a stage direction so
    • In the body of the script, don't use round brackets for anything other than a stage direction.
    • If your characters have speeches broken up by subclauses that would normally be in parenthesis, then use a single dash in place of the preceding and trailing brackets.
  • There is one exception - see "Localisation" below
Scene-setting directions
  • Scene-setting directions (which usually occur at the start of a scene!) are still directions. They should still be enclosed in round brackets.
  • If you have multiple scene-setting directions - for example, a direction describing the set, followed by a direction about who is on stage at curtain rise - and you feel constrained to write these as separate paragraphs, then enclose each paragraph in its own set of brackets
  • A stage direction within a speech should contain actions only for the speaker.
  • Where a speech is interrupted by a stage direction that requires an action by people other than the speaker, then the direction should start on a separate line.  This applies to directions to other characters and directions to the technical crew (e.g. "a phone rings")
  • If a speech resumes after such an interruption, then it should resume on a new line and the speaker's name should be restated.
  • If an entire speech is taken up with a direction - there is no speech, just direction - then format it as a direction.  Don't start the line with the character name, start it with the opening of a bracket.
  • Directions shold occur before actions.
    • Directions for manner of speech come before the speech (otherwise you are telling the actor how he should have said it)
    • If a direction tells Phil to react to something that Jane has been doing for the last five minutes, there should be a direction for Jane, positioned in the script where her action starts, not at the point at which Phil notices it!
  • A direction may be part of a speech, it is never part of the character's name - so a colon should follow the characters name, and, after a tab, the direction should follow the colon. The colon should never come after the direction.
  • Write your directions in sentence case.
    • A direction at the start of a speech (immediately following the speaker's name) should start with a capital letter.
    • A direction immediately after a full stop in a speech should start with a capital letter.
    • A direction before the start of a new sentence of speech should end with a full stop.
  • Do not write the names of characters in UPPER CASE. Write them in Title Case.
  • Do not use any character formatting - no italics, no underlines. (We will format all stage directions in bold.)
  • A direction tells someone to do something. Write it as an instruction
    • Direct actors or crew.
    • Avoid passive directions like "we hear..." or "we see..." - they don't tell anyone to do anything.
    • Don't write directions from the audience's viewpoint.
  • A character description should not form part of a direction
    • The direction "A tall man" will not enable the actor to do anything differently.
    • "A blonde woman enters" is wrong unless you have a character called "A blonde woman". "Jane enters."
  • The use of "(hopefully the audience will join in)" is an abomination and should be expunged from your work.
    • Firstly, it does not direct the actor to do anything; "Encourage the audience to join in" would be more useful
    • Secondly, "hopefully" is an adverb which describes someone's manner (as in "I went to the biscuit tin and the dog looked at me hopefully"). It does not mean "I hope".
  • A localisation is a direction which invites the actor to substitute a word or phrase in the script with something relevant to the audience
  • Localisations should be in square brackets (and should be the only use of square brackets in the body of the script). We will format them to bold and italic.
  • They should be as simple as possible, so "[Local Street]" would be an invitation for the actor to say "Wood Road" (or another thoroughfare of his choice).
  • Don't say too much you are usurping the job of the actors and director
    • Directing the mood, manner and emphasis of every speech gets in the way
  • Don't say too little
    • Get your actors on and off the stage!
    • Don't introduce surprise set, furniture of props
      • A vital piece of set should be part of the scene setting direction.
      • A vital carry-on prop should be part of the entrance direction.
Example of Badly Structured Stage Directions
Scene 2
Fred takes a bucket to wash the windows. [1]
Jane:     Why did you say that?
Fred:     Say what?
Jane:     That bit about taking a bucket.
Fred:     That's what the script says. It starts with my name, so it must be my line.
(Jane stares at him in evident disbelief. there is a long uncomfortable pause)
        Who says this next bit? [2]
Jane:     I think that's your line.
Fred:     Can't be.  That speech didn't have my name on it.  (whilst Fred is talking, the phone rings.  Jane answers it) [3][4]  Go on then, answer the phone.
Jane:     What phone?
Fred:     Back there.  It said the phone rang.
Jane:   (stares at the phone as if daring it to ring) [5]
Crew:   (offstage) Sorry!
  1. Not formatted as a stage direction.
  2. Orphan line.  (Speaker's name should be restated after the interrupting direction.)
  3. Direction for characters other than the speaker.  Should be on a separate line.
  4. Badly punctuated.  Should start with a capital and end with a full stop.  (This applies throughout.)
  5. A stage direction formatted as a line of speech.  (Should be a direction, therefore all in brackets.)
Example of Better Stage Directions
Scene 2
(Fred takes a bucket to wash the windows.)
Jane:     I see you've got the bucket this time.
Fred:     Well yes, I could see it was a stage direction.
Jane:     And what are you going to do with it?
Fred:     Wash the windows, of course.
(Jane stares at him in evident disbelief.)
Fred:     Well what do you expect me to be doing with a bucket of soapy water?  (He turns to the windows.)
(Jane stares at the phone as if daring it to ring.)
Fred:     Nothing I like better than a clean window...
(Whilst Fred is talking, the phone rings.)
Fred:     ... except, maybe... I expect it's for you.
Jane:   (Snatching up the phone.)  Hello?  (Pause, then relieved...)  Patrick! 

Further ruminations about directions can be found on the BeeWaxing Blog
See also
Lazy Bee Scripts House Style

Lazy Bee Scripts Home Page