Skip to content

Screenplay Format 101: Text Messages and Emojis

typewriter emojis

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to us at no cost to you. You can read our full affiliate disclosure in our privacy policy.

Nowadays, the majority of people communicate via text message or instant message rather than voice when using their smartphones. And thus, text messages and various other forms of written communication via a device are more important for screenwriters than ever before.

When formatting text messages in a screenplay, there is no one official correct way. We’ll present you with a few options, but the most important thing to remember is that whatever method you choose, ensure that you are clear and consistent for your reader.

Method 1 – Text Messages in Action

Our first method of formatting text messages in a screenplay is to include them as part of the action. This works well when you have just one or two text messages, and you don’t want to risk changing the flow of the script.

Text Messages as Action Example:

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

The phone VIBRATES. Brenda searches for the phone on the bed. She finds it and looks at the screen. It’s a message from Mac:

“Hey… I’m sorry”

In this example, we have indicated a shot of the phone screen and who the message is from. Then we format the actual message below using the dialogue margins.

Method 2 – Text Messages as Inserts

The second option is to treat text messages as inserts. This means that the phone screen will be shown onscreen. This is another good technique for situations with a small number of text messages.

Text Messages as Insert Example:

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

The phone VIBRATES. Brenda searches for the phone on the bed. She finds it and looks at the screen. It’s a message from Mac:

INSERT – MESSAGE FROM MAC, which reads:

“Hey… I’m sorry”

In this example, we have indicated a shot of the phone screen and who the message is from, just as before. But then we format the actual message below using the SUPER prefix and standard Action margins.

Method 3 – Text Messages as On Screen Titles

Yet another technique is to indicate that the text message will be written on screen, presumably as white titles. In this option, we use the shorthand SUPER, which stands for superimposed.

Text Messages as Super Example:

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

The phone VIBRATES. Brenda searches for the phone on the bed. She finds it and looks at the screen. It’s a message from Mac:

SUPER: Hey… I’m sorry

In this example, we have indicated the phone and who the message is from, just as in the first example. But then we format the actual message below using the SUPER prefix and standard Action margins.

Method 4 – Text Messages as Dialogue

An alternate technique that is better suited for rapid back-and-forth text messages is to treat the texts just like dialogue.

Text Messages as Dialogue Example:

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

The phone VIBRATES. Brenda searches for the phone on the bed. She finds it and looks at the screen.

MAC (TEXT)

Hey… I’m sorry

BRENDA (TEXT)

I know. It’s okay.

MAC (TEXT)

Can I see you again?

BRENDA (TEXT)

I don’t know…

In this example, we have both characters displayed as normal with the simple addition of the word (TEXT) beside their name. Then, we just have their text messages below exactly as it would be with spoken dialogue. We are leaving it to the director and production to decide how best to display the texts on screen. At this point, we are only concerned with conveying the information that is important to advance the story.

One other note, John August recommends that text-based dialogue should be presented in italics. We agree that this is a good choice as it helps to visually differentiate text messages from standard spoken dialogue.

Can I use Emojis in a screenplay?

It’s perfectly acceptable to use emojis in your script if that is how the character would communicate. Should you be using emojis to describe a character in a period drama? Probably not. But in a modern story with characters interacting via on-screen messages, it makes sense. The trick is making sure that the emojis display correctly for the reader, technically.

Your screenwriting app may allow you to type emojis without a problem; Arc Studio Pro does but Final Draft doesn’t. However, even if you can add the emoji to the script, you’ll need to make sure that it’s going to be visible to the reader.

Proofread any exports that you make, whether that be on printed paper, PDF, Fountain, FDX or any other format. Try to verify the emoji works (doesn’t disappear) on multiple computers and multiple devices.

Remember that just because it works on your computer or your iPad doesn’t mean that it will be visible for the reader.

One Last Note

No matter which option you choose, the most important thing is the readability of your particular script. For this reason, we would recommend that whatever format you choose…

Put the text message on its own line

Otherwise, you risk the reader skimming over it and losing the context. We’ve seen scripts where a text message is part of a block of action, and it’s very easy to lose that information when reading fast.

Wrapping Up

Ultimately, it’s up to you as the screenwriter to decide which method of formatting text messages in your screenplay is best. Choose one, and then be sure that you use it consistently throughout your script. Whether you choose to include them as part of the action, an insert, on-screen titles or dialogue, make sure that the words you choose serve to move the story along. Or maybe your characters actually want to talk on the phone, who knows!

Share this post on social