When Should You Use
Underlining in a Screenplay?

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When Should You Use Underlining in a Screenplay?

Writing a screenplay is a unique and creative process. As screenwriters, we must not only tell a compelling story but also provide clear and precise instructions for directors, actors, and the production team. One tool we have at our disposal is underlining. But when is it appropriate to underline in a screenplay? This blog will explore the best practices for using underlining, with clear examples to guide you.


In the world of screenwriting, formatting is as crucial as the story itself. Proper formatting ensures that your screenplay is easy to read and understand, which can significantly impact how your script is perceived by industry professionals. One formatting element that often raises questions is underlining. When used correctly, underlining can enhance your script by drawing attention to important elements. However, misuse can lead to confusion and detract from your story. This guide will help you understand when and how to use underlining effectively in your screenplay.

Why Formatting Matters

Formatting is the visual structure of your screenplay. It includes everything from font size and margins to how you indicate scene transitions and character names. Proper formatting is essential for several reasons:

  • Readability: A well-formatted script is easy to read, allowing the reader to focus on the story.
  • Professionalism: Proper formatting shows that you understand industry standards, which can make your script more appealing to producers and agents.
  • Clarity: Clear formatting helps convey your vision to the production team, ensuring that everyone understands the nuances of your story.

The Role of Underlining in Screenplays

Underlining is a powerful tool in screenwriting, but it should be used sparingly. Its primary function is to emphasize specific elements of the script that are crucial for the reader to notice. Here are some common uses for underlining:

Emphasizing Sounds

In screenplays, sound effects play a vital role in creating the atmosphere and enhancing the narrative. Underlining can be used to draw attention to important sounds that need to be highlighted for the reader and production team.


The wind HOWLS through the trees, rustling leaves. An OWL HOOTS in the distance.

In this example, the underlined sounds "HOWLS" and "HOOTS" are essential to setting the scene's eerie tone.

Highlighting Important Actions

Key actions that are pivotal to the story can be underlined to ensure they stand out to the reader and director.


Jane GRABS the letter from the table, her hands TREMBLING. She TEARS it open and begins to read.

Here, the actions "GRABS", "TREMBLING", and "TEARS" are underlined to emphasize their importance in the scene.

Indicating Significant Objects or Visuals

Underlining can also be used to highlight objects or visuals that are crucial to the plot or character development.


On the desk, a photograph of a YOUNG GIRL catches John's eye. He PICKS it up, his expression softening.

In this scene, "YOUNG GIRL" is underlined to draw attention to the photograph, which holds emotional significance for the character.

Stressing Key Dialogue

In some cases, underlining can be used to emphasize particular words or phrases in dialogue that are critical to the character's emotion or the plot's development.

What do you mean by "gone"?

I mean he's NEVER coming back.

The underlined words in John's dialogue stress the finality and seriousness of the situation.

When Not to Use Underlining

While underlining can be a useful tool, it's essential to use it judiciously. Overusing underlining can make your script difficult to read and detract from its impact. Here are some guidelines on when not to use underlining:

  • For every action or sound: Only underline actions or sounds that are truly significant to the scene.
  • In place of description: Use vivid descriptions to convey the scene instead of relying on underlining.
  • In dialogue excessively: Overemphasizing words in dialogue can make it feel forced and unnatural.

Best Practices for Using Underlining

To ensure that your use of underlining enhances your screenplay, follow these best practices:

  • Be selective: Only underline elements that are crucial for the reader and production team to notice.
  • Maintain consistency: Use underlining consistently throughout your script to avoid confusion.
  • Pair with other formatting tools: Use underlining in conjunction with other formatting tools, such as bold or italics, to create a clear and professional script.

In Conclusion

Underlining is a valuable tool in screenwriting, but like any tool, it must be used with care. By understanding when and how to use underlining, you can ensure that your screenplay is clear, professional, and impactful. Remember to be selective and consistent, and always prioritize readability and clarity. With these tips in mind, you'll be well on your way to crafting a screenplay that stands out in the industry.

Happy writing!

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