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I will try to explain the general idea I've gotten from the most trusted source in my opinion.

PLZ EXCUSE MY CRUDE INSULT TO SCREENPLAY FORMAT, I DON'T KNOW HOW TO TRANSFER THE REAL THING INTO THIS APP.

The Ellipsis

Starting with the ellipsis, there were two main uses:

1) a pause in a speaker's single thought he is expressing. (Examples seemed like it was for dramatics.)

Joe
----------
I'm talking about a completely different school of thought ...

Joe scratches his chin.

Joe(Cont'd)
----------
... and it ain't the school of hard knocks.

2) the way I understood it was a pause in one's dialogue to think what or how to say.

Joe
----------
(Tears begin to form)
I'm not sure how to say this ... Dad was always the orator in the family.

3) Trail off.

Joe
----------
If I ever see your face up here again ...

M-Dashes

1) the interruption.

Joe
----------
I assumed he was just —

Bob
----------
I'm not going off some assumption, Joe.

2) the stammer

Joe
----------
(Aghast) I — I d — don't even know how that got there.

ANY HELP IS MUCH APPRECIATED🙂 ~ Matt

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Should I use ellipses or em dashes to denote pauses in speech? – JBH Sep 6 '17 at 15:44
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    While the end result may have the same answer, the questions are different. This question is asking to clarify on the differences between the 2 while the other question was asking which to use to designate a pause in speaking. Ultimately they end up with the same answer of explaining the difference, but the root question was different. – ggiaquin16 Sep 6 '17 at 21:36
  • You've already answered your own question. – user26338 Sep 7 '17 at 7:55
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Rule of thumb: ellipsis for trailing out (or in), em-dash for turns and interruptions.

The ellipsis is usually more sedate, like when you run out of thought and are not sure what to say next. Em-dash is more intense pause — you got interrupted, you change the subject rapidly, you want to say the next thing but can't.

These rules are not set in stone. The two are often interchangeable, providing merely a slightly different emphasis on the nature of the pause.

  • Well put, thx a lot – Matt Sep 6 '17 at 16:21
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John August talks about em-dashes and ellipses in Scriptnotes Ep.51 where basically he calls them interchangeable and go with the style you like. However as scripts are written in mono-spaced fonts the convention is to use a double dash for an em-dash.

SF.'s answer is grammatically right on the money, in that an ellipse is a trail-off but an em-dash is a hard break. But such a hard distinction is too pedantic for show business.

However I would caution you to

Never use ellipses

This assumes you want to sell your screenplay instead of make it yourself. If you're writing for your own production, have at it. It's your baby. In all other cases I think it's lazy or bad writing.

In Screenwriting Mistake #2: Ellipses Phil Dyer points out that ellipses are ubiquitous. Read enough un-produced screenplays and you'll cry at the environmental destruction they've wrought just in page count and toner/ink wastage.

You would not use a parenthetical before every line of dialogue to instruct the actor how to deliver the line. Therefore isn't 99% of ellipsis use a direct note to the actor on how the line is delivered?

Even Shakespeare does not tell actors how to perform or deliver their lines.

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    Note: abuse of ellipsis in place where normal full stop should go is a common sin of countless newbie authors of all forms of prose. – SF. Sep 7 '17 at 6:20

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