Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

How to Write Text Messages in a Traditional Screenplay

Write Text Messages In a Traditional Screenplay

Ah, life in the 21st century. There are no flying cars, and we're still bound to living on Earth. We do, however, communicate almost exclusively via text, an ability that surely would've impressed our ancestors. We should reflect on such an important change in how we communicate in our scripts set in modern times. So today, I'm here to talk about writing text messages in a screenplay! How do you format it? What should it look like?

There's no standard formatting for text messages, so it's one of those "do what you'd like as long as it's clear what you're trying to convey" sort of things.

If you have a back and forth conversation carried out in text messages, the easiest way to format that might be just to treat it as dialogue, and then denote that it's text in parenthesis. 

Script Snippet

Kelly's phone buzzes.

JIM (TEXT)

U up?

Kelly scoffs, but types back almost immediately.

KELLY (TEXT)

Srsly???

Buzz. Buzz.

JIM (TEXT)

Wat?

KELLY (TEXT)

Shouldn't u be texting Tina?

JIM (TEXT)

Who??

Kelly replies with a middle finger emoji.

I italicized the text messages just so there's a visual distinction between them and the actual spoken dialogue.

If you have a text conversation where you want to show that we cut back and forth between the characters, then this might be an excellent opportunity to use an intercut! I've talked about intercuts in a previous blog, but the short of it is that an intercut can be used to play two scenes out parallel without all the sluglines. Intercuts are most commonly used for phone conversations, thus making them great for text conversations, too!

Script Snippet

INTERCUT TEXT CONVERSATION JIM/KELLY

TEXT BUBBLES appear on the screen as they text each other.

JIM (TEXT)

U up?

KELLY (TEXT)

Srsly???

JIM (TEXT)

Wat?

KELLY (TEXT)

Shouldn't u be texting Tina?

JIM (TEXT)

Who??

Kelly replies with a middle finger emoji.

With this example, I also mention that text messages should appear onscreen while the characters are messaging each other. At the end of the day, it's up to the director, but you can still suggest whether or not text messages should appear on the screen, be shown on the phone, or read in a voice-over. The director will do what they want, but at least you put your vision for the scene out there!

Now, what if you want to show one text message? Then what do you do? Simple! Here, Kelly wanted to show her friend Wanda the dumb text she got from Jim.

Script Snippet

Kelly holds her phone out for Wanda to see.

KELLY'S PHONE

A text message from Jim reads: "U up?"

BACK TO SCENE

 Or even simpler ...

Script Snippet

Kelly holds her phone out for Wanda to see.

The text message from Jim reads: "U up?"

Easy, right?

These are all just examples of the possible scenarios you might find yourself needing to format text messages in a screenplay. Since there are no hard and fast rules for text messages, use these examples to inspire how you'd like to format things. As with all things in screenwriting, once you settle on a formatting style, be sure to stick with it and use it consistently throughout your script!

I hope this helps! TTYL.

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