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I am working on a script that involves the deaf parents of the protagonist.

The father is totally deaf and dumb. The mother became deaf as a teenager so can speak but cannot hear.

Here is what I would like to know (preferably from a reader's point of view) regarding format:

Should I include a note to the reader at the start indicating this situation and say that all dialog in italics needs to be with subtitles because of it?

Or just put in parenthesis "signing" every time someone communicates in sign language?

The first option seems like it could get lost in the shuffle during reading and the second option could get to be repetitive and tiresome.

Thanks for any help on this.


Deaf and mute.  Dumb implies lack of intelligence of which I do not think you are trying to write.

In any case, I believe that a note in the narrative just prior to the first dialog using sign language would work.  You do not need any narrative in italics or sub-titles.

The only time I believe you might need a parenthesis in dialog would be if someone who has spoken before now signs in addition to speaking.

The narrative should not get lost in a the 'shuffle.'  However, to keep the reader's interest I would suggest that you shake up the characters.  In other words, I would have the father try to mouth words to push importance or the mother signs until a stressful moment then she speaks, etc.

I recognize that this system is telling and not showing, but in this case captures the issue quickly and returns to the story easily.


George is deaf and cannot speak.  He always signs.

What is he up to?

Mary looks at him.  She reads lips and can speak but prefers to sign.

What do I know?  You're the dad.

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John M. Lovett


I answer questions regarding film production and screenwriting. I will answer questions dealing with screenwriting style, ideas, film production, format, and agents.


Sixteen years working in the motion picture and television industries as a screenwriter, producer, and military technical advisor. Have two produced movies TWO WEEKS and CATHY MORGAN. Worked with Digital Ranch Productions, Warriors Inc, and Nichols Productions.

CSUF, BA, 1980 UCLA, Certificate in Screenwriting, 2009

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