Screenwriting and the letter

Correct formatting of your screenplay is essential to be taken seriously by the decision makers in the film industry. Incorporating a letter in a screenplay can be tricky, though formatted correctly; it can make your scene stand out.

The most straightforward way to depict a letter in a screenplay is to show a character reading the letter and to use dialogue. A character that just reads a letter out loud in any film would be boring. However, there are ways to insert some energy into your writing and avoid the monotony that could hinder the development of your screenplay.

The character change/flashback – A character in present day finds a letter in an old dresser in a garage and begins to read out loud. Their voice fades… This is where the sender, in a different year, a different town, takes over reading before fading back to the receiver at the end of the letter. See how we were brought full circle after the discovery of the letter?

This kind of action on the screen will capture an audience. Most will be curious and want to know who wrote the letter, where it came from and most importantly, what the letter is about. Your script can be written to include that and so much more.

An alternate style; format your script so your character reads the letter out loud where he/she is, then as their voice fades, the letter is read (V.O.) while we see the sender as they are writing the letter.

Example of when a screenplay reveals the contents of a letter:

Tom takes the envelope, pulls out a letter, and reads:

Tom
It’s much easier for me to talk on paper.
I am very hurt about the time you spend away
from home and the fact that it seems like you
have no time for us. I’m sorry if I’ve been
neglecting you. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you and
I think that maybe I shouldn’t be living here?
I know I haven’t appreciated all the little things
that you do for me all the time. I think that I take
advantage of your kindness. I love you and
every part of you. I know I would never find
anyone else like you. I’m sorry for not giving
you the love you deserve for so long. I know
I could never replace you, but I feel like I’m
missing something in my life. Maybe if we live
separate lives for a while I would appreciate
you and want you. I’m so sorry.”


Notice that our character’s dialogue is enclosed in quotes. This shows that he’s using someone else’s words. We would also see him reading the letter. Additionally, when a character reads a letter to himself, a voice-over (V.O.) is used.

Another formatting tip is using an INSERT to bring the element of the scene (the letter) into full frame.

Tom lifts the letter from the kitchen table.

INSERT – THE LETTER 

“It’s much easier for me to talk on paper.
          I am very hurt about the time you spend away
from home and the fact that it seems like you
      have no time for us. I’m sorry if I’ve been …”

BACK TO SCENE

Tom crumples the letter and tosses it on the table.

FADE OUT

Filmmaking is this rare responsibility. A chance to tell a story that will resonate with an audience and leave lasting memories. Make it count. – David Spies

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