The goal is simulate the idea "You are hearing but not listening". My first implementation idea is using subtitle on specific sentences/keywords to show what a character is actually listening but many people don't like subtitle.

  • Would it work to add noise or lower the volume of parts of the conversation the character isn't listening to?
    – user54131
    Dec 29, 2022 at 14:45
  • My friend told me this can cause some discomfort to viewers if the experience drags out long enough, like listening to a song but some words are randomly muffed. Dec 29, 2022 at 20:20

3 Answers 3


Unless you are shooting for some avant-garde cinematic experience which immerses the viewer in the character's sensoria, the actor is the vehicle to communicate the impacts and experience of their defining mental and emotional traits.

If this was prose, you'd have insight into the character's internal state to communicate the character's experience. For visual media, since you are restricted to dialogue and action, you craft the character's reactions and dialogue to demonstrate that they are not fully following the arc of the moment. You also can show other characters' reactions to your POV character's dialogue.

It would be important that the viewer is able to fully understand the events in the scene. This way the viewer is able to draw upon their own experiences to decide that this POV character is experiencing an attention deficit versus something else like dementia, self-absorption, or generally not paying attention.

It could also be a challenge to pinpoint this conclusion for viewers who don't have the prerequisite knowledge regarding attention-deficit conditions. Maybe brief exposition might help with that. Kind of depends on the story.

The strongest questions for me, personally, are: do people experiencing attention deficit experience it as frustration or confusion with themselves or with others, or are they unaware that they are not tracking with the same concerns as others in a conversation.

  • If you know how certain things should be done from experiences then it's easy to use rational to fill in the gaps of unaware blanks in the sequence-of-events [like why am i spending this much time on reading this simple sentence; i keep losing focus to what people are saying around me etc etc] Dec 29, 2022 at 20:00
  • Ultimately, sometimes I want viewers to derive somewhat same decision as the character given "handicapped information" at hand; rather than having perfect information, feel confused why character acts different, then retrace themselves to conclude that the character was perception-handicapped. I want to make the viewer's decision-making process as real-time as the character if that makes sense. Dec 29, 2022 at 20:11
  • Because there are planned scenes where character does not have the time nor someone else to retrace-and-correct their mistakes. For these scenes, if viewers fully understand the situation, they can expect ahead that a mistake is about to happen. But what viewers don't fully understand the situation and thus not expecting the mistake? Like in shuttle island, I suspect something wrong with Leonardo but I was root in the notion that he had a partner because that's what we all saw at the beginning of the film Dec 29, 2022 at 20:27

Have a lot of action and description of something less important, and minimal focus on the important core of the action.

Attention deficit tends to mean a hyperfocus on inappropriate things. Do that and you'll be able to show it off well.


If you're looking to show a character with ADHD, I would recommend listening to how ADHD people describe their experiences. A lot of how it is described and perceived is from frustrated non-neurodiverse people, and that includes the DSM.

If you're looking to just have one character distracted while another is talking, both body language and dialogue can easily portray this. Eye contact is intermittent or 100% unwavering (like the character has zoned out or dissociated), no part of the body is turned toward the speaker, etc. In dialogue, you can show that the listener is only catching bits and pieces by completely missing certain important pieces and then reacting oddly to something they do finally catch.

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