Capturing the digital nuances of communication in screenwriting demands a strategic approach. In contemporary storytelling, text messages often play a crucial role, providing a direct line into your characters’ thoughts and propelling the plot forward without the need for spoken dialogue. As you embark on the journey of writing text messages into your script, remember that clarity and consistency are your guiding principles.

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To write text messages in your screenplay effectively, you need to master the art of formatting. The goal is to convey these messages in a way that is easy for readers to follow and for filmmakers to visualize. Including text messages involves more than just dialogue; it’s about integrating a critical aspect of modern interaction into the visual narrative of your film or TV show. Whether you choose to describe the messages within the action lines or insert them as on-screen graphics, your writing needs to reflect the seamless way texts weave into our daily lives.

Understanding the widely-accepted conventions for depicting text conversations is essential. Scripts often use a combination of descriptive action and stylized text to indicate messaging activity. It’s important to format text messages in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of your screenplay but still captures the essence of the conversation. Properly formatted, these text exchanges can become a dynamic and integral part of your screenplay, enhancing both character development and the story arc.

The Role of Text Messages in Screenwriting

A smartphone with a blank screen, a keyboard, and a conversation bubble icon

In screenwriting, text messages have become an essential tool for conveying plot details and character interactions in a world where digital communication is ubiquitous. Grasping their application can elevate your screenplay’s authenticity and dynamics.

The Evolution of Screenplays

Originally, screenplays focused on visual storytelling through actions and dialogue. House of Cards, for example, streamlined narrative exposition through clever use of text messages without impeding the visual flow of scenes. Methods for incorporating text messages into scripts have adapted to represent this change, transitioning from verbal phone conversations to on-screen graphic text to immerse viewers into the reality of the characters.

Screenplays vs. Modern Texting Culture

In present-day scripts, a text message is more than a throwaway line; it is a form of dialogue that reflects modern texting culture. While traditional dialogues occur face-to-face or over the phone, a text message must be visualized for the viewer, often requiring a different formatting approach in your screenplay. Films now frequently employ creative on-screen graphics to depict texting, reflecting how these digital exchanges can carry as much weight as spoken words.

The Basics of Formatting Text Messages

A smartphone screen displays a text conversation between two characters, with speech bubbles and emojis, set against a backdrop of a cozy coffee shop

As a screenwriter, it’s imperative to understand the nuances of formatting text messages within your script to ensure clarity and readability. Your goal is to convey these onscreen elements seamlessly alongside traditional dialogue.

Incorporating Text into Dialogue

When you introduce text messages into your script, always have context. For instance:

  • CHRIS (typing): Will you meet me at 8?
  • JEN’s phone screen: See you there.

Use bold for character action or stage direction related to the message, and italicize the text message content for onscreen readability.

Choosing the Right Formatting Style

The formatting style you choose should maintain the flow of your script. You might opt to:

  1. Center the text on the page, signaling to the reader and production team that the content is a visual text message.
  2. Differentiate the text with a distinct font or style, such as Courier New or italics, but be consistent throughout your script.

Your choice should align with the script’s overall formatting to avoid confusion.

Advanced Screenwriting Techniques

In screenwriting, text messages can serve as a powerful tool for revealing character traits and advancing the plot. To effectively incorporate these elements, it’s important to employ advanced techniques that blend voice-over and directional cues with the visual storytelling.

Voice-Over and Text Messages

When you integrate text messages with a voice-over, you’re essentially giving your audience a peek into the character’s private world. This technique allows you to reveal the inner thoughts of a character as they read or compose a text. For example, you might write:


Jane stares at her phone. A beep sound indicates a new message.

(reading the text message)
"I miss you too."

Jane hesitates, then types a reply.

Here, the voice-over reading of the text message creates an intimate atmosphere and offers the audience access to the character’s sincere reaction, which may differ from their outward behavior.

Using Intercuts for Texting Scenes

“Intercuts” are critical when showing a text messaging exchange especially if your characters are in separate locations. Rather than describing back and forth messaging, you guide the reader’s vision by inter-cutting between scenes.

For instance:


Sarah's thumbs fly over the phone keyboard, a flicker of anxiety on her face.



John's phone lies next to his computer. It lights up, signaling a new message from Sarah. He glances at it, continues to work.

In the above snippet, you’re directing the reader’s attention from Sarah to John with the use of “INTERCUT WITH:” This instruction is both a direction and an editing note, suggesting how the film cuts between these concurrent scenes. It enhances the pace and engages the viewer visually, linking two remote locations seamlessly through the act of texting.

Collaboration and Consistency

Collaboration with your team and consistency in your script’s formatting are crucial for seamless production. Ensuring clear communication and uniformity allows for a better interpretation of your screenplay.

Working with Directors and Producers

When you collaborate with directors and producers, it’s vital to understand their vision and ensure that your formatting choices align with their expectations. Use screenwriting software that offers collaborative features, allowing real-time edits and comments. This ensures that the text messaging format you choose is agreed upon by all parties involved. Providing options within the description sections of your script can further clarify how text messages may appear on screen, accommodating a director’s stylistic approach.

Maintaining Consistency in Formatting

To maintain consistency in formatting text messages in your screenplay, adopt a standard method to denote these messages. You might decide to:

  • Use a specific font for all text messages.
  • Include text messages within action lines or as separate dialogue blocks, ensuring they are easily distinguishable.

Regardless of your choice, be consistent throughout your screenplay. This not only helps your readers follow the story but also prevents confusion during production. Reference examples from industry standards to guide your formatting decisions and check that they comply with the requirements of your director and producer.

Remember, clear and consistent text message formatting will support your screenplay’s readability and the overall storytelling process.