questionmarkI’m writing a script in which a main “character” is invisible and the audience will never see or hear him. The character (Bob) is built from his interactions with the lead character in the story (Jane).

My question is, what is the best way to write dialog between the real and invisible character, when it appears as if the lead character is talking to herself?

Here are a couple examples of what I mean:

  • JANE
  • I’ve gotta get some food in me. You hungry…? You know I’m a vegetarian– Yeah, so…? Pork rinds are not made of real pig… Fine. You buy me a bag and I’ll read the label.

or:

  • JANE
  • I’ve gotta get some food in me. You hungry?
  • (beat)
  • You know I’m a vegetarian–
  • (beat)
  • Yeah, so?
  • (beat)
  • Pork rinds are not made of real pig.
  • (beat)
  • Fine. You buy me a bag and I’ll read the label.

or:

  • JANE
  • I’ve gotta get some food in me. You hungry?
  • (Bob answers)
  • You know I’m a vegetarian–
  • (he cuts her off)
  • Yeah, so?
  • (Bob won’t shut up)
  • Pork rinds are not made of real pig.
  • (he begs to differ)
  • Fine. You buy me a bag and I’ll read the label.

Do you think one of these options is better than the others? Do they all suck? I’d appreciate any suggestions from your own experience.

— Michael
Los Angeles, CA

You’re bumping up against one of the limitations of screenwriting: it’s hard to capture some things on paper that make perfect sense on screen. You’re trying to balance clarity with annoyance, so the reader will understand what’s happening without being aggravated by the technique.

Option one is just too dense. Option two is much easier to read, but you’re beating us to death. And option three provides more detail than we really need.

So my suggestion would be to try a combination of options two and three. Use (beat) or another short, meaningless filler such as (listens) or even (. . .) for most breaks, then provide more details (such as “he begs to differ”) on lines that need the setup.

Also, consider how often you really need to break up the lines, and look for occasions when it makes as much sense to keep them together.

It’s never going to be ideal. But if your dialogue is sharp enough, the reader will ignore the parenthetical awkwardness and enjoy the rhythms you’re setting up. That’s all you need.