#WW #screenwriting #script CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 31st: Ellipsis and Beat

Back on Blog the 28th I talked about the misuse of the phrase “we see”, this week I want to go back to those ideas and talk about why you shouldn’t use ellipses or the word beat.

Ellipsis…
Ellipsis or dot dot dot as they are sometimes read are making their way into writing more and more.  Ellipsis are used when a writer is quoting an individual but is omitting information.  This can either be in the middle of a sentence or at the end.  In either case the ellipsis signifies that more was said, but the quote has been shortened to make it easier to read.

Extending from this idea that ellipsis shows where words were removed, the ellipsis is also used to show hesitation or when a person does not finish a thought.

The ellipsis has become popular because when a typical person talks they do not speak in perfectly choreographed speeches, but instead they hesitate and search for the right words.

So it just seems natural to write ellipsis into the dialog of your script, because it displays the natural speech patterns of normal human beings.

Wrong.

Like the words “we see” ellipses are never needed in a script.

Here’s why.

  1. 1) Dialog will be read and performed by an actor who more than likely have a better sense of performance and naturalism than you do (since it’s their job).  Now instead of an actor finding the natural places for pauses and hesitation, they are now stuck with the ones you wrote.
  2. But you say, “I am the writer, I know where the hesitation should go because I understand how the lines should flow.”  To this I say, sorry, you are wrong.  Take out those ellipses and you will see, the lines flow better.
  3. “But I really need to put hesitation in my dialog!”  Well then write it in your action lines.  Describe how your character is nervous, or stammers or whatever it is they are doing that cause them to hesitate.  Again, you will see that this reads better than ellipses.
  4. “Ahh,” you say, “but in my description I need to show down the pace to provide a reveal.” To which I would tell that this is a bad idea.  Ellipsis in description look like this:

Mike looks around the corner and sees…

Nothing.

He opens his bag and pulls out…

The Detonator!

The above example reads much smoother with some better writing and without the ellipsis.

Mike peers around the corner, searching.

But finds nothing.

He opens his bag, clasping at what he needs.  The Detonator.

Beat
A beat is a trick unique to scripts.  A beat is a momentary pause when nothing is happening and no one is speaking.  It is used to create tension or to designate when there should be a dramatic pause in the dialog.

But once again, you should not use “beat” in your script.

Here’s why.

  1. Just like how the ellipsis dictates to an actor how to read a line, a beat dictates when an actor should pause.  Instead the actor (who is better trained to read lines than you are) should find their own way to deliver the lines in a natural way.
  2. A beat tells the reader that there is a dramatic pause instead of the writing telling the reader this is a dramatic pause.  What I mean by this is that “beat” is a crutch and the easy way out for a writer.  If the reader cannot realize that there should be a dramatic pause in your story at that moment, then your writing needs to be better.  Don’t rely on “beat” to fix your writing.
  3. The word is irritating because it is not a natural phrase.  The definition of “beat” to mean a pause is unique to screenwriting and thus is not a natural phrase used in every day life.  Since you want your writing to feel like the real world, using a word like “beat” is not the right approach
  4. There is no need for the word “beat” in a script.  If you want a pause, then write in a pause.  Since a script follows approximately a 1 minute per page format, the longer a description the more time it is on film.  Thus if you want to spend more time on a moment, such as a pause, then write about it.  Have your character perform an action, or make a moment or something.  Anything is more interesting than “beat”.

I may seem critical but I do feel that “we see” “…” and “beat” are not welcomed in scripts.  They offer distractions from the writing and try to dictate the job of others working on the film.  They are also unnecessary as then can be easily fixed with better writing.

Still don’t believe me?  Just imagine if my sign off was this?

So until next week…
(beat)
Keep writing.

Ugg.

About Evan Jobb

Evan Jobb is a screenwriter and producer and is the returning Writer Laureate with the Canadian Short Screenplay Competition. He placed 4th place in the 2009 Canadian Short Screenplay Competition an 9th in the 2010 Competition. His 2011 award winning short film, "Those Forgotten" is currently available at CBC Downloads. When he isn't writing he is teaching science and math to junior high and high school students. He currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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2 Responses to #WW #screenwriting #script CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 31st: Ellipsis and Beat

  1. Adrian says:

    Great insight. I fully agree with your thoughts on not using beat. I actually had a disagreement with another writer regarding its use. As for ellipsis, I am guilty of using it but not after reading your post.
    Thanks.

  2. Evan Jobb says:

    Hey Adrian,
    What were the other writers reasons for using “beat”?

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