Lazy Bee Scripts
How to tell actors what to say

Formatting Lines of Speech
'I am the most spontaneous speaker in the world because every word, every gesture and every retort has been carefully rehearsed.'
- George Bernard Shaw
This page explains how to format speeches for publication in the Lazy Bee Scripts house style.
(Other publishers may want other things.)
  • The character's name should appear at the start of every paragraph of speech.
  • It should appear in Title Case (not all in capitals)
  • It should be the same all the way through the script
  • The character name should, if possible, be short whilst avoiding excessive use of initials
    • "Fairy Godmother" can be conveniently abbreviated to "Fairy" if there are no other fairies in your script
    • "Fairy Godmother" can be conveniently abbreviated to "Godmother" if there are no other Godmothers.
    See also more on name length
  • Put a colon after the speaker's name.
    • Let me put this another way: the first character after the speaker's name should always be a colon.
    • Then put a single tab.
    • Now you're ready to start the speech (or a short stage direction for the charcter, then the speech).
  • If a speech is interrupted by a stage direction which includes directions to other characters (or to the crew)
    • The stage direction is placed on its own line
    • When the speech resumes, on a new line, the speaker's name should be restated
  • We will put the speaker's name in bold. (If you wish to do that, that's fine!)
One Speech, One Paragraph
  • The general rule is that one speech should form one paragraph.
    • A paragraph ends with a "return" (achieved using the "Enter" key).
    • If you hit the Enter key before the end of a speech, then you are doing something wrong! See hints.
    • Multi-line speeches should be indented using "Hanging Indents"
      • Do not use returns, spaces or tabs to mimic Hanging Intents.
        It will mess your text up when we reformat it, and we will get really cross.
      • Your Word Processor's "help" menu should tell you how to use hanging indents.
      • If you can't get this to work, leave the text left-justified. (We will sort out the indents anyway!)
    • Paragraphs that run over the end of a page should be sorted out by your Word Processor, not manual intervention.
  • Exceptions to the "one speech, one paragraph" rule are:-
    • Lines of verse (where it is normal to put in a return at the end of each line)
    • Song lyrics (a special case of lines of verse!)
    • Those occasions where a speech is interrupted by a stage direction which applies to other characters
      • The stage direction is placed on its own line
      • When the speech resumes, on a new line, the speaker's name should be restated
    • Long monologues, where it is (aesthetically) necessary to break a single speech into multiple paragraphs.
  • If your speech contains numbers, write them out in words instead of numerals
    • It's a more explicit way of telling the actors what you want them to say
    • It looks better on the page - more like a play and less like a business report
  • This is clearest if you talk about large numbers and currency amounts.
    • How do you want the actor to say $1140.50?
      • English people would tend to say "One thousand one hundred and forty dollars and fifty cents."
      • Americans tend to omit the "and", and have a greater tendency to group hundreds rather than thousands, thus "Eleven hundred forty dollars, fifty".
    • Do you want the character to say "dollars" or "buck" or to omit the currency?
    • You're the author.  It's your line.  Write down what you want the actor to say!
  • The only significant exception is years, where writing 1945 is okay, unless you write it at the beginning of a sentence, where it looks horrible.
  • If you want a speaker to stress a particular word or phrase, then indicate it by using italics.
    • That's all.  Not bold, not underlined.  Just italics.
    • Don't use italics in speeches or stage directions for any other purpose.
  • Use this sparingly.
    • Inexperienced actors (kids) may benefit from some pointers
    • Experienced actors will develop inflection from meaning
  • If you want a character to shout, then
    • either use a stage direction - (shouting) - or
    • use UPPER CASE.
    (In my opinion, the former is better, because the intention is clearer.)
  • Distinguish between emphasis and shouting.
    • Almost any word in a sentence can be stressed.
    • Shouting tends to be
      • Whole phrases ("GET OUT OF HERE!")
      • Words at the ends of sentences ("I want you to GO!") or
      • Single word sentences usually a name, a command or a curse! ("OUT!")
  • The first rule is to aim for self-consistency
  • All questions, even (would you believe it?) rhetorical questions should end in a question mark
  • If you want a speech to tail off, or to be interrupted, use an ellipsis (...)
    • More than three does not add meaning
    • Two just looks like a mistake
    • Dashes are inconsistent in this context (see below)
  • Use only one dash at a time, and only for
    • Hyphens, in word-concatenation or
    • In conjunction with one space either side - this sort of thing - to separate ideas
  • So don't use dashes
    • At the end of lines (use the ellipsis - see above)
    • In multiples
      • Some systems interpret two dashes as an em - a single long dash
      • Others don't, so the results are messy.  Clarity is better.
    • In conjuction with other punctuation marks: don't use the semicolash
    • Half way between a hyphen and a separator. (A dash has one space either side, or none at all.)
  • Multiple exclamation marks and question marks don't add anything.  To convey more than one, use a stage direction.
  • Likewise, we deplore the interrabang (?!)
Song Lyrics
  • Format song lyrics and lines of verse in the same way as speeches
    • When a new singer takes over, state the character name at the start of the first line
    • If several people sing together, group their names as you would for simultaneous speaches [see below]
  • Write lyrics in sentence case, not ALL CAPS
  • If one singer (or group) sings multiple lines, start each vocal line on a new line with a tab (not an indent)
  • Put the character names on separate lines
    • Never put a list of characters on one line, such as "Jane and Fred: What?"
      (Our formatting is quite likely to turn that into a speech for Jane starting with the words "And Fred".)
  • After the speaker's name, put a colon, a tab and a curly bracket: one of these }
  • If two or more speakers say the same thing, then
    • put "} (Together)" on the first speaker's line
    • Put "} " followed by the speech on the second speaker's line.
  • If two or more speakers say different things at the same time, then
    • For long speeches, add "} (At the same time as <speaker>)" at the start of each speech
    • For short speeches, just add "} " at the start of each speech
Example of Simultaneous Speeches
Scene 3
Eric: He'll be here in seven minutes.
Fred: }  (Together)
Jane: }  What?
Eric: He'll be here in seven minutes.
Eric: }  (At the same time as Jane.)  Come on, Jane, you've known for weeks that he was coming, there's no point in making a fuss, just relax and let's hear what he has to say.
Jane: }  (At the same time as Eric.)  He can't come in.  Not with you here, Fred.  You've got to do something.  Anything!  Get in the cupboard!

See also
Lazy Bee Scripts House Style
Naming Your Characters

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