Surreal landscape with typewriter key road leading to italicized film reel sculpture

The Ultimate Guide to Using Italics in Screenplays Like a Pro in 2024

In the world of filmmaking, the screenplay is the blueprint that brings a story to life on the big screen. It’s a crucial document that not only outlines the narrative but also provides detailed instructions for directors, actors, and crew members. As such, proper formatting and adherence to industry standards are essential for creating a professional and easy-to-read screenplay.

One common question that often arises among aspiring and experienced screenwriters alike is whether or not they can use italics in their screenplays. The use of italics in screenwriting is a topic that has generated much discussion and debate within the industry, and it’s essential to understand the guidelines and best practices surrounding this formatting element.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore when and how to use italics in screenplays, provide examples and formatting guidelines, discuss best practices and cautions, and offer insights from industry professionals.

When to Use Italics in Screenplays:

Italics are primarily used for specific purposes in screenplays, and it’s essential to understand when and how to employ them correctly. Here are the most common instances where italics are used:

  1. Character Thoughts or Internal Monologue: One of the primary uses of italics in screenplays is to indicate a character’s thoughts or internal monologue. This technique allows writers to provide insights into a character’s inner world and thought processes without disrupting the flow of dialogue or action.


JOHN stares out the window, lost in thought.

(italics) I can’t believe she left me.
(italics) How could she do this to me?

  1. Emphatic Stress on a Word or Phrase: Italics can also be used to emphasize a particular word or phrase in dialogue, indicating that the character is placing special emphasis or stress on that term.

I told you not to touch my things!
Especially my _italics_ journal.

  1. Indicating a Voice-Over or Off-Screen Dialogue: When a character’s dialogue is heard but the character is not visible on screen, italics are used to indicate that the dialogue is a voice-over or coming from off-screen.


JOHN lies in bed, trying to sleep.

(italics) John, are you awake?

  1. Describing Technical Elements like Text on a Screen or Signage: If a screenplay includes scenes where text appears on a screen (e.g., a computer monitor, a phone display, or a sign), italics are used to describe that text.

On the laptop screen, the words _italics_ “Access Denied”
_italics_ flash ominously.

Examples and Formatting Guidelines:

When using italics in screenplays, it’s crucial to follow industry-standard formatting guidelines to ensure consistency and readability. Here are some examples and guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Character Thoughts or Internal Monologue:

(italics) I can’t believe she left me.
(italics) How could she do this to me?

In this example, the character’s thoughts are indicated by the “(V.O.)” notation, followed by the italicized text enclosed in parentheses.

  • Emphatic Stress on a Word or Phrase:

I told you not to touch my things!
Especially my _italics_ journal.

Here, the word “journal” is italicized to indicate that Sarah is placing emphasis on that specific word.

  • Voice-Over or Off-Screen Dialogue:

(italics) John, are you awake?

The “(O.S.)” notation indicates that Sarah’s dialogue is coming from off-screen, and her words are italicized.

  • Text on a Screen or Signage:

On the laptop screen, the words _italics_ “Access Denied”
_italics_ flash ominously.

In this case, the text that appears on the laptop screen is italicized and enclosed in quotation marks.

It’s important to note that trusted resources and screenwriting software can be invaluable tools for ensuring proper formatting. Many screenwriting programs, such as Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and Fade In, have built-in style guides and auto-formatting features that can help writers maintain consistent formatting throughout their scripts.

Best Practices and Cautions:

While italics can be a useful tool for conveying specific elements in a screenplay, it’s essential to use them judiciously and with care. Here are some best practices and cautions to keep in mind:

  • Use Italics Sparingly: Overusing italics can be distracting and make the script harder to read. It’s best to use them only when necessary and in moderation.
  • Maintain Consistency: Once you’ve established a formatting style for italics (e.g., using parentheses for character thoughts), maintain that style throughout the entire screenplay for consistency.
  • Consider Alternative Methods: In some cases, alternative methods may be more effective than using italics. For example, instead of italicizing a character’s thoughts, you could introduce a separate section for internal monologue or use a different formatting technique.
  • Avoid Overemphasis: While italics can be used to emphasize certain words or phrases, be cautious not to overdo it. Excessive emphasis can be confusing and lose its impact.
  • Follow Industry Standards: While some creative liberties may be acceptable in certain genres or experimental styles, it’s generally best to adhere to industry-standard formatting guidelines to ensure your screenplay is easily readable and professional-looking.

Exceptions and Special Cases:

While the guidelines outlined above cover the most common uses of italics in screenplays, there may be exceptions or special cases where italics are used differently. For example, in certain genres or experimental styles, writers may choose to use italics in unconventional ways to achieve a specific artistic effect.

However, it’s important to note that deviating from standard formatting practices should be done with caution and for a specific creative purpose. Unless you have a compelling reason to do so, it’s generally advisable to follow industry-standard guidelines to ensure your screenplay is easily understood and well-received by industry professionals.

Software and Tools:

In today’s digital age, there are numerous software and online tools available to help screenwriters format their scripts correctly, including the use of italics. Here are some popular options:

  1. Final Draft: One of the most widely used and respected screenwriting software programs, Final Draft offers robust formatting tools and style guides to ensure your script adheres to industry standards. Its auto-formatting feature can automatically italicize text based on pre-defined rules, making it easier to maintain consistent formatting throughout your screenplay.
  2. Movie Magic Screenwriter: Another popular choice among professional screenwriters, Movie Magic Screenwriter provides a user-friendly interface and powerful formatting capabilities, including automatic italicization for elements like character thoughts and off-screen dialogue.
  3. Fade In: A more affordable alternative to Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter, Fade In is a feature-rich screenwriting software that offers advanced formatting options, including support for italics and other formatting elements.
  4. Online Screenplay Formatters: Several web-based tools, such as Celtx, WriterDuet, and, offer online screenplay formatting solutions that can help writers format their scripts correctly, including the proper use of italics.
  5. Style Guides and Resources: In addition to software tools, there are numerous style guides and resources available that provide detailed guidelines on screenplay formatting, including the use of italics. Some popular resources include “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier and the website.

By leveraging these software tools and resources, screenwriters can ensure their scripts are formatted professionally and consistently, including the proper application of italics.

Industry Insights and Advice:

To gain a deeper understanding of how italics should be used in screenplays, it’s valuable to seek insights and advice from experienced industry professionals. Here are some valuable perspectives from accomplished screenwriters, producers, and script readers:

“Italics should be used sparingly in screenplays. They can be helpful for indicating character thoughts or off-screen dialogue, but they shouldn’t be overused to the point of distraction. As a general rule, if you can convey the same information without italics, that’s often the better choice.” – John August, Screenwriter (“Big Fish,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”)

“While italics can be a useful tool, it’s important to remember that a screenplay is primarily a blueprint for visuals and dialogue. Overreliance on italics for things like internal thoughts can make the script feel more like a novel than a screenplay.” – Pilar Alessandra, Script Consultant and Author of “The Coffee Break Screenwriter”

“When it comes to using italics for emphasis, I generally advise writers to be very judicious. Too much emphasis can dilute the impact and make the dialogue feel unnatural. Instead, consider using more specific word choices or actions to convey the intended emphasis.” – Ray Morton, Former Studio Script Reader and Screenwriting Instructor

“As a producer, I appreciate when screenwriters follow industry-standard formatting guidelines, including the proper use of italics. It makes the script easier to read and understand, which is crucial when evaluating potential projects.” – Megan Ellison, Producer (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Her”)

These insights from industry professionals highlight the importance of using italics thoughtfully and in moderation, while also adhering to established formatting guidelines. By heeding their advice, screenwriters can ensure their scripts are professional, readable, and well-received by those in the industry.


The use of italics in screenplays is a nuanced topic that requires a thorough understanding of industry standards and best practices. While italics can be a powerful tool for conveying specific elements like character thoughts, emphatic stress, and technical details, they should be used judiciously and in accordance with established formatting guidelines.

By following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, screenwriters can effectively employ italics when appropriate, while avoiding common pitfalls and maintaining a professional, easy-to-read script.

Remember, the ultimate goal of a screenplay is to communicate a compelling story and provide a clear blueprint for filmmakers. By mastering the proper use of italics and adhering to industry standards, writers can enhance their scripts’ clarity and impact, increasing their chances of success in the competitive world of filmmaking.

As with any aspect of the craft, continual learning, practice, and a willingness to seek feedback from industry professionals are essential for honing your screenwriting skills, including the effective use of italics. Embrace the guidelines and insights provided in this guide, and continue to refine your craft, one well-formatted screenplay at a time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are script titles italicized?

Yes, script titles (i.e., the titles of screenplays) are typically italicized when written in text, just like book titles or other major works. For example: “The Shawshank Redemption” or “Pulp Fiction.”

What do italicized words mean in a script?

In a screenplay, italicized words can mean a few different things:

  1. Character’s thoughts or internal monologue
  2. Voice-over or off-screen dialogue
  3. Emphasis or stress on a particular word or phrase
  4. Technical elements like text on a screen or signage

What is the #1 rule when writing a screenplay?

The #1 rule when writing a screenplay is to follow proper formatting guidelines. Adhering to industry-standard formatting makes your script easier to read and shows professionalism. Things like margin sizes, font choices, and spacing conventions are crucial.

How do you emphasize a word in a screenplay?

To emphasize a word or phrase in a screenplay, you italicize it. For example: JOHN I can’t believe you did that to me! Especially after I told you not to.

Should film titles be italicized?

Yes, film titles should be italicized when written in text, just like book titles or other major works. For example: “The Godfather” or “Inception.”

When should titles be italicized?

Titles should generally be italicized when referring to major, long-form works like:

  • Books
  • Movies/Films
  • Plays
  • Long Poems
  • TV Shows
  • Albums
  • Magazines/Journals

What does italic script look like?

Italic script is a cursive, slanted font style that flows smoothly from character to character. It looks like this:

This is italic script text.

What should be bolded in a screenplay?

In screenplays, the only things that are typically bolded are:

  1. Scene headings (e.g. INT. HOUSE – DAY)
  2. Character names before dialogue

Everything else is usually left un-bolded.

What is the difference between italic and script fonts?

The main difference is:

Italic fonts slant to the right and maintain an upright orientation. Script fonts are cursive, with characters connected and flowing together horizontally.

Italics derive from calligraphic styles, while scripts aim to emulate human handwriting.

So in summary – italicize wisely but follow screenplay formatting rules. Using proper conventions shows you understand the craft of screenwriting.

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