How to Write a (Pause) in Dialogue in a Script

In screenplays, it’s sometimes hard to get one’s point across. The way we perceive words is generally face to face, not on a page. Using pauses can enhance dialogue in a script making things more dramatic.

How do you write a (pause) in Dialogue in a Script? You write a pause in a script on a new line of dialogue with colons. For example:

George, I just wanted to let you know.
I hate you.

Did you know that there are several ways to write them and they all serve different purposes? Read below to find out more.

The Many Ways to Write a Pause

So now that you know how to write a pause lets get into the different ways to write them.

1.) The first way being…this way.

If you write three dots in the middle of your dialogue it can indicate a hesitation just like writing “(pause)” itself.

This way is a little more subtle and is what many other screenwriters and I prefer over the original way. You will use this method for a clear break in a speech if the character is saying something well worth a break in speech.

One example this can be used is when it’s hard for the character to admit or talk about something. You see these more often in love scripts or that one moment in the script where someone is admitting something.

2.) The second way of writing a pause is to colon any action you want the actor to do in the middle of the dialogue. For example:

Sure, how much?
(John reaches in the glove compartment)
Dean eyes his hands.

This example gives actual action as a pause even though it’s not outright saying that there should be a moment where time stands still.

This pause method is better seen by the director to be a clue the audience should pay attention to this moment causing a slight two-second shot in the final production.

3.) Using the term (Beat) can act as a pause.

Beats sometimes can become complicated because there are three uses of the term in screenwriting. For a clear explanation on that check out the article below.

But just for reference here most of the time a beat in the smallest unit of measure in a script. So for example, if someone were to stand up and pick up their phone that would qualify as two beats. Now let’s look to see how we can use this in a dialogue line. Check out this example:

From this example, you can see that there is a face-off between the two gentlemen. Not just because of the (Beat) but because of the words said right before the intended pause.

This is one of the first scripts I’ve ever written, and I tended to use beat in those times more than pause or any other form of break in the action I’ve mentioned thus far. But for this, I could have easily used “pause” here.

4.) The action line pause.

Pauses in action lines can be interpreted as pauses in dialogue scenes. What I like most about this type of pause is you can get more creative with it. Check out the examples below:

These examples again come from a script I wrote not too long ago. The use of words before describing the type of pause can be a descriptive way of seeing how something is paying out in your head. If something is confusing to use the words “confused pause.” It’s that simple.

Why you shouldn’t use a pause in a script

Now you know and understand how to use all pauses in a script it’s time to go into the reason ways you shouldn’t use it. And we would go into how

1.) Directing actors is not a good idea.

As a writer, your job is to create the story. A story has more to do with the overall actions that people take than the micro ones you see on the big screen. This is not to say you should never use pauses in dialogue, but it’s rarely done and only should be done for those crucial, high-pressure moments in a script you want the reader to feel.

With that said if every third word is some instructional pause, it could feel as if you’re narrating the director’s every word. Treat pauses in your script like David Fincher treats a close-up shot. Do it only when you need the audience to pay attention.

2.) Saying the same thing twice

I use to do this a lot in my scripts. The point would already be made, and I will exaggerate it with a pause. I thought I was giving it more of a moment. Until a script reader brought it to my attention. I’ll give you an example of this below:

I guess he has no time for that.
Yea I guess so.
Funny pause.

Maybe not the best example but you get the point. I’ve already established what was said is funny, and I don’t need to tell the reader again. Each line in your script should be feeding the reader more information than the last. Doing this will stop your scripts from getting too slow. In your head, you could be thinking.

“My scripts not slow.”

But like in a film if you show the gun in the suitcase there is no need to tell them. If you do that you’re taxing the audience.

What’s the difference between a (beat) and a (pause)?

As stated earlier in the post, a beat and a pause are necessarily the same thing and can be treated as such. But there is a slight difference between the uses.

Most writers tend to use pauses for dramatic events and dialogue and beats for dramatic actions. These methods seem like the most obvious use of my expereince reading scripts. But again people can understand what you mean no matter what way you’re using them. So it’s entirely up to you.

Happy writing.

How to Write a (Pause) in Dialogue in a Script
Scroll to top