View Full Version : How to write hesitation/pondering in dialog?

Denis Haineault
08-16-2008, 12:08 PM

As the subject says, is there a standard/recommended way to write a character's hesitation/pondering during dialog? For example, instead of something direct like this:

"yeah I know that place, it's on Lyon street"

I would like something like this:

"yeah I know that place, it's on (ponders) Lyon street"

The idea is to make the dialog appear more natural, unrehearsed. Perhaps using the good old "..." ?

Also, would this be considered to be too much stage direction? Is this not recommended?


Tabula Rasa Productions
08-16-2008, 12:21 PM
I use visual description, e.g. "Yeah I know that place, it's on..." Character looks away momentarily, as if glancing at an invisible chap on his shoulder. "...it's on Lyon street". But that's me.

08-17-2008, 06:51 AM
You can use an ellipse or "A beat".

08-17-2008, 07:25 AM
Ellipse seems to be most common.

If there's an action that can be used to describe character or emotion, then that could fill the space.

If it's a long pause (like hearing one side of a telephone conversation) I'll put a space in the middle of the dialogue so the page still times-out to a minute.

Another thing to consider is to leave it up to the actor.

"Yeah... I know... that place..., it's... on... Lyon street" (Shatner, in case you couldn't tell.)

08-17-2008, 07:31 AM
For a real emphasis on a pause, you can also give it a bigger break than an ellipsis alone:

Yeah, I know that place. It's on...

He pauses, searching her eyes for the answer.

Lyon Street.

Denis Haineault
08-17-2008, 09:09 AM
Thanks for all the replies.

So if it's a character trait, then using ellipses would make the most sense. Otherwise, I can use the other suggested options (including ellipses).


Bob Gruen
08-17-2008, 09:24 AM
It also depends on which version of the script you are writing:

If you are writing a direction script (and you are therefore the director) then write whatever you want. If you are writing a reading script and trying to sell it to someone else then direction should be kept to a minimum, and three periods should be the only mechanism used for a pause directive.


08-17-2008, 11:07 AM
I have had people complain when creating pauses in dialog. I would do this because I act and I can hear the line a certain way so that's the way I write it, but I guess some people frown upon that because they want the actor to deliver how they will. You can be creative with action blocks, there are a lot of good examples above so I won't waste your time with another.

08-17-2008, 11:50 AM
Yeah, most actors don't like to be told when to pause.

08-17-2008, 03:35 PM
Yeah, most actors don't like to be told when to pause.

It's funny for me because I do both. When I write, I want the actors to act how I want (but I have to remember that is not my choice) and when I act I want to write it the way I feel (but I have to remember I can't).

It's an interesting combination sometimes.

08-18-2008, 05:10 AM
I think today it is considered almost insulting to the actors to do so. Unless absolutely necessary for the storyline, don't tell actors how to act. Let them do their job. The actors learn the characters, get into the characters' heads, decide if and when to ponder or hesitate.

As the subject says, is there a standard/recommended way to write a character's hesitation/pondering during dialog?...

Denis Haineault
08-18-2008, 09:23 AM
I get what you are all saying. I wouldn't want to dictate exactly how an actor should deliver every single line.

My main problem is with dialog being delivered by a character as if they had been rehearsed. I'm talking about a witty line, or answering a technical question that shouldn't be second-nature to this character, etc...

A great example of what I like is in "A Few Good Men" when Kaffee says:

...Lt. Kaffee will have a long and
prosperous career teaching typewriter
maintenance at the Rocco Columbo School
for Women.

Cruise ponders what to say after the word "teaching" which makes absolute sense to me. Now whether this was Cruise's own doing or the director is another topic...

Suffice it to say, if I had written a line like that, I would see it as mandatory for the character to pause in order to think of something clever to say.

Anyway, I'm pretty new at writing, so I might be concentrating too much on little details that shouldn't be my concern... but I can't help it :)

08-23-2008, 07:31 AM
I put it in parenthesis:

Yeah I know that place, it's on...
______(recalling memory)
Lyon street.

I think the writer should be able to write this in. It just helps the actor know the character better with more detail in the script. And of course, it could also be up to the director.

Capt Quirk
08-23-2008, 08:21 AM
I write things as if I were watching a movie. If I feel a pause is needed for timing or dramatic effect, I put it in with ellipses for a short pause, a (beat) for a slightly longer pause. As far as it being an insult to the actor's, it's my story. If that isn't satisfactory to them, let them become writers instead of actors. Everybody has a specific place, and it would do them well to learn where their's is. Would you want your camera man to decide what they feel is best for a scene? How about the food service people? I mean, suggestions are one thing, but to take over because you feel it would be better is just not Kosher.

08-24-2008, 02:42 AM
As long as you're happy with the fact that the actors are just going to cross the hesitations out.