I have a scene where my character sits down to read a court summons and I want the shots to show various parts of the document like his name, then his codefendants name, then the charge and then the compensation sought, etc. I don’t know if I should use quotes around the words or what..and I don’t know if I have to set up each action line of text with telling the audience that he’s reading still??? Like:

Judd scans the document ”Judd McCormick” ”codefendant David Golding” ”Wrongful dissolution of a partnership” Etc etc

Any help is much appreciated.

3 Answers 3


In one of my stories, I have a letter written by a girl's adoptive father. She loves him, he is pushing 80, but he tells her he is dying, along with other information he thinks she should know about her past and parents that was never before revealed to her.

I presented the letter in italics (used to indicate thoughts) as she read it, I add 1 inch to the left and right margins for any letter content. I broke in-between (with normal margins) to break that up with some exposition, her reactions and other thoughts as she read (e.g. she stopped reading to cry at one point), and when I came back to the letter went back to the wide-margin italics, with an ellipsis ... and repeating the last line she had read.

My rationale is that when she is reading, the words she is reading are going through her head as thoughts, so they can be presented as such, and the extra margins make it easy for my audience to tell "letter" from "exposition" and "other thoughts" of the character.

Also, the exact format of the letter doesn't matter to the story, what matters is the information imparted to the character. He asks her to do something, and she does love him and can't turn him down, but it will be complicated...

The important thing is to be clear, and for the purpose of submission you should NOT go to other fonts or picture inserts, etc. To me this was the least intrusive way of clearly setting the letter apart from the normal text and dialogue of the book.

  • 3
    He is talking about screenwriting in this case though, not a book. Would it be different?
    – ggiaquin16
    Dec 7, 2017 at 21:39
  • You are giving advise for the wrong medium. This question is about screenwriting, not about writing a novel.
    – Philipp
    Dec 10, 2017 at 21:57

Firstly ask yourself if showing things like the name and codefendants name, the charge and etc are really that important to show to your audience. If it is, consider the effects of that. I imagine that it would be something to show the bureaucracy and "seriousness" of the juridic system. Or if it is in a high tension scene, it can sound very dramatic with the help of strategic cuts.

I don't know how you want make the scene or the context of it. It is already on the tribunal or not? But doubts aside, you can do this by various ways, and you just need to know your OBJECTIVE and what are the EFFECTS of the way to decide to achieve that goal. Here are some ideas you can take:

  • You can show the character reading the document for the court's registrar to write. (Registrar, don't know if that's the word. It is the scrivener of the court.) It would be interesting to see that like flashbacks or rapid cuts during a high tension scene.
  • You can show the defendant or some other justice agent (or the co defendant like you said above) reading that for another character while he is emocional driven in the reading (altough I don't think he would read the more technical things in the document like you wanted.)
  • Or you can show the guy writing that document while he narrates to the audience. Or better, while the defendant reads the document.

I would do something like:

INTERNAL SHOT. Court's office. The scrivener writes down the document while some justice officer dictates for him.

SOME JUSTICE OFFICER: "The New York 13th justice department is summoning the defendant X and his co defendant Y for the judicial process..."

CUT. FLASH FOWARD. INTERNAL SHOT. The defendant reads the summoning document with his eyes already tearing.

CUT. FLASH BACK. INTERNAL SHOT. Justice Officer: "He is charged of killing and murdring two children.

CUT. ZOOM at the scrivener typing the words with grave sounds for dramatic effect.

Justice Officer: The judging will be at the December third, nineteen seventy two.

CUT. FLASH FOWARD. INTERNAL SHOT. The defendant is crying. His tears wet the papper.



I don't think I seen a closeup on a document in any movie made since the 40s. It simply isn't done that way. The way it is done if for the character to be handed the document, open it, and immediately cut to a scene in which two characters are arguing about it. Look at any legal drama made in the last half century and this is what you will see. Picking up a document or being handed one always leads to an immediate cut to an argument.

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