Parenthetical Don'ts

As useful as Parentheticals can be, many beginning screenwriters misuse them, which, in turn, leads to overuse of Parentheticals.

Here is a list of Parenthetical Don'ts that may help amateur screenwriters use Parentheticals the right way, and hopefully allow them to dispense with needless Parentheticals.

1. DON'T use Parentheticals to describe a character's actions if the action would be better suited for a Direction paragraph.

Look at this example:

This is one of the most common misuses of Parentheticals. NONE of the Parentheticals in the above example are necessary, and their inclusion makes for amateur writing.

Let's rewrite the scene, but move the action into Direction paragraphs where it belongs:

Much better!

But that doesn't mean some small action cannot be placed within Parentheticals. Check this out:

Small, simultaneous actions can be placed within the Parenthetical, so long as the writer doesn't make a habit of it.

2. DON'T Capitalize the first letter of a Parenthetical or end the Parenthetical with a period.

These examples are wrong:

And here is how the same examples SHOULD be written:

You'll notice that Herb is Capitalized. Even in Parentheticals, proper names are Capitalized.

3. DON'T end a Dialogue block with a Parenthetical.

This example is Incorrect:

The screenwriter needs to remove (sighs) from the Dialogue block.

4. DON'T place sound effects or camera direction within Parentheticals.

Look at these:

Put sound effects where they belong - within Direction paragraphs.

As far as Camera Directions are concerned... they shouldn't be used at all!

5. DON'T put one character's actions into another character's Parenthetical.

This example needs to be rewritten:

The fact Davis slips and falls has no business in Julie's Parenthetical.

Put it in Direction, like this:

6. DON'T place pronouns in Parentheticals.

This is wrong:

Since it's Fred's dialogue, it is a given that he is the one holding back the tears.

Here is how it should look:

7. DON'T allow a single Parenthetical to extend beyond four lines.

This Parenthetical is far too long at six lines:

Much of the information within the Parenthetical should be moved out into a Direction paragraph.

8. DON'T leave a Parenthetical at the bottom of a page.

Look at this example:

The Parenthetical (leaning in; quietly) looks odd at the bottom of the page.

Granted, I've only found one pair of experts who call this out as an error in the book they co-authored, and Final Draft is actually set to default so that Parentheticals are left at the bottom of pages like this, but everytime I see it when I'm editing a screenplay, I'm bothered by it.

Now look at this example:

Now, doesn't that look more natural, with the Parenthetical affixed below a Character Heading where it belongs? And it is such a simple fix!