Ellipsis – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Screenwriting Glossary Terms

What is an Ellipsis in Screenwriting?

In screenwriting, an ellipsis is a punctuation mark consisting of three dots (…) used to indicate a pause in dialogue or to omit words or phrases. It is commonly used to create tension, convey hesitation, or show a character’s thought process. Ellipses are a powerful tool in screenwriting as they can add depth to a character’s emotions and motivations without the need for explicit exposition.

How to Use Ellipsis in Dialogue?

When using ellipsis in dialogue, it is important to consider the context and purpose of the pause. Here are some tips on how to effectively use ellipsis in dialogue:

1. To indicate hesitation: Ellipses can be used to show a character’s uncertainty or reluctance to speak. For example, “I don’t know if I can…”
2. To create suspense: Ellipses can build tension and anticipation in a scene. For example, “I have something to tell you, but I’m not sure if I should…”
3. To show a character’s thought process: Ellipses can convey a character’s internal struggle or decision-making process. For example, “I want to… but I can’t.”

When to Use Ellipsis in a Screenplay?

Ellipses can be used in a screenplay to enhance the emotional impact of a scene or to convey subtext. Here are some situations where using ellipsis can be effective:

1. During moments of emotional intensity: Ellipses can be used to show a character’s inner turmoil or conflicted emotions. For example, in a breakup scene, a character might struggle to find the right words, leading to pauses indicated by ellipses.
2. To indicate a shift in tone or mood: Ellipses can signal a change in the direction of a conversation or a shift in a character’s mindset. For example, a character might start a sentence confidently but trail off with ellipses as they become unsure.
3. To create ambiguity: Ellipses can leave room for interpretation and allow the audience to fill in the blanks. For example, a character might trail off with ellipses, leaving the audience to wonder what they were about to say.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Ellipsis in Screenwriting

While ellipses can be a powerful tool in screenwriting, there are some common mistakes to avoid when using them:

1. Overusing ellipses: Using ellipses too frequently can dilute their impact and make the dialogue feel choppy or disjointed. It is important to use ellipses sparingly and strategically to maintain their effectiveness.
2. Using ellipses as a crutch: Ellipses should enhance the dialogue and add depth to the characters, not replace meaningful conversation. Avoid using ellipses as a shortcut to avoid writing meaningful dialogue.
3. Failing to consider pacing: Ellipses should be used to create tension or convey emotion, not to slow down the pace of a scene unnecessarily. Consider the pacing of the scene and use ellipses judiciously to maintain momentum.

Examples of Effective Use of Ellipsis in Screenplays

1. From “Lost in Translation” (2003):
I just feel so alone, even when I’m surrounded by other people. I don’t know if I can…
… ever find true happiness.

2. From “The Social Network” (2010):
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just thought…
… I thought it was the right thing to do.

3. From “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004):
I love you, but…
… I can’t keep doing this.

In these examples, ellipses are used to convey hesitation, uncertainty, and emotional depth, adding complexity to the characters and the scenes. By using ellipses effectively, screenwriters can enhance the impact of their dialogue and create more nuanced and compelling storytelling.