What Does O.S. Mean in Scriptwriting? (Solved + Examples)

Have you ever been reading a script and wondered what those little letters, like O.S. or V.O., after a character’s name mean?

I know I certainly did when I started writing. I would ask, “What does O.S. mean in scriptwriting?” Turns out, these are important directions for how the dialogue is delivered in a scene.

If you’re ready to take your scripts to the next level, let’s get started.

What Does O.S. Mean in Scriptwriting? (Here’s the Answer)

“O.S.” stands for “off-screen.” When you see (O.S.) next to a character’s name, it means they’re speaking, but the camera isn’t on them at that moment. Think of it as the script telling the director, “Hey, this character is in the scene, and you’ll hear them, but we aren’t seeing them right now.”

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That’s the general meaning, anyway, but O.S. can have multiple “meanings” when applied to specific circumstances in your screenplay.

Those meanings and uses are next.

11 O.S. Scriptwriting Uses and Examples

Let’s break down some different scenarios where “O.S.” comes into play for formatting your dialogue.

Here are the 11 use cases of O.S. in screenwriting, complete with explanations, examples, and tips for each.

1. Character in a Different Room

This is the bread and butter of O.S. dialogue.

It indicates a character is speaking, but they’re currently off-camera, likely in another room of the location. This creates a sense of the character existing within the larger space but keeps the focus on the character(s) currently in frame.



JENNA hums as she makes breakfast, expertly flipping pancakes. A spatula CLATTERS against a pan.

TOM (O.S.)
Honey, are my keys on the counter? I can’t seem to find them anywhere.

Jenna pauses, listening for a moment.

Check by the door, next to the mail!

She flips another pancake.


  • Use O.S. sparingly when characters are just out of frame but still likely visible in the wider location. A quick camera pan or reveal shot might be more impactful than relying solely on O.S. dialogue.
  • Consider the reason the character is off-screen. Are they simply in another part of the room, or is there a specific reason they’re not in the frame, like rummaging through drawers or hiding something?

2. Eavesdropping on a Conversation

O.S. can be a powerful tool to create suspense or reveal a character eavesdropping on a conversation.

This can introduce a layer of mystery or foreshadow future conflicts.



SARAH and MARK pace frantically around a conference table, stacks of paper strewn across the surface.

We have to figure this out before the meeting! If they find out…

Suddenly, the door creaks open a sliver. They both freeze.

Did you hear something?

Sarah shakes her head, but her eyes dart nervously towards the door.

LIZ (O.S.)
Interesting… Sounds like they’re in a bit of a pickle.

A beat of shocked silence hangs in the air.


  • Use sound design to subtly highlight the eavesdropping. This could be the creaking floorboards Liz stepped on, the rustle of her clothes, or even Sarah and Mark’s nervous breaths.
  • Consider the perspective of the eavesdropper. Is Liz actively listening at the door, or did she stumble upon the conversation unintentionally?

3. Character Enters the Scene Mid-Conversation

O.S. can be used when a character bursts into a room in the middle of another character’s dialogue.

This can create a sense of urgency, surprise, or humor, depending on the context.



MIA sips her latte, nervously glancing at the door every few seconds. Her foot taps impatiently against the floor.

Where is he? He said he’d be here ten minutes ago!

Just then, the door swings open and ALEX enters, looking slightly flustered. He holds up a hand in apology.

Sorry I’m late! Traffic was a nightmare. You wouldn’t believe…

Mia cuts him off with a playful shove.

Don’t even start with excuses, mister!


  • Play with the timing of the O.S. dialogue. Does it immediately precede the character’s entrance, or is there a beat of dramatic tension before they appear?
  • Consider the emotional state of the entering character. Is their arrival a relief, a surprise, or something more? Alex’s slightly flustered apology hints at his awareness of being late, but the script doesn’t reveal yet if Mia is genuinely annoyed or simply putting on a show.

4. Establishing Ambiance

O.S. isn’t just about character dialogue.

It can be used to create atmosphere through background noises that place the audience in a specific environment.



The air hums with the sound of VENDORS HAUKING their wares, CHILDREN LAUGHING, and the distant CLANGING of a blacksmith’s hammer.


Get your fresh peaches here! The sweetest in town!

MAN (O.S.)
Sharpening knives! Best prices around! Let me get that blade back in shape!

SARAH weaves through the crowd, her eyes wide with amazement at the colorful displays and lively energy.


  • Layer different sounds to create a rich soundscape. Don’t just stick to one or two O.S. noises – add depth and variety.
  • Choose sounds that evoke a specific mood or time period. Is your marketplace bustling and cheerful, or is there a tinge of desperation in the vendors’ voices?
  • Think about where the sounds are coming from in relation to your character. Are they all around, suggesting Sarah’s in the heart of the market, or are they fading in and out as she moves, indicating she’s on the outskirts?

5. Internal Monologue

While less common, you can use O.S. to represent a character’s inner thoughts, especially for moments of strong emotion or pivotal decision-making.


EMILY stares at a dusty bookshelf, her eyes fixed on a worn copy of “Pride and Prejudice”. A hesitant look crosses her face.

Should I do it? Should I reread it? This could change everything… again.

She reaches out hesitantly, her fingers ghosting across the book’s spine, before abruptly pulling her hand back.


  • Use this technique strategically. Too much internal monologue can bog down the pacing of your script and make your character feel overly introspective.
  • Consider the tone of the internal monologue. Does it match the character’s usual speaking voice, or is there a change – perhaps more vulnerable, more uncertain, or even more determined?
  • Ensure the physical actions of your character in the scene support the internal monologue, making the character’s inner battle clear to the audience

6. Phone Calls

Phone conversations are a classic example of when O.S. is necessary.

We only see one side of the conversation, making the dialogue of the person on the other end of the line O.S.



Sarah paces nervously, phone pressed to her ear. Tears well in her eyes, but her voice is steady.

Mom, I’m telling you, I’m fine. Of course I miss him, but I’m moving on.

MOM (O.S.)
Honey, you don’t sound fine. You should come home for a visit. A little time with family always helps.

Sarah sighs shakily and squeezes her eyes shut.


  • Use the O.S. dialogue to reveal information about the unseen person, their relationship to the main character, and the tone of the overall call. Mom’s voice is concerned and caring, yet Sarah reacts defensively – this tells us a lot.
  • Don’t forget reactions! Sarah’s physical actions and changing emotions guide the audience in understanding the entire call, not just her side of it.
  • If you’re only going to show one person speaking, consider adding a brief descriptive line to clarify that it’s a phone call, especially at the very beginning. (Ex: “Sarah sits on the couch, clutching a cell phone.”)

7. Broadcasts and Public Announcements

O.S. is often used to incorporate unseen announcers, radio DJs, or television broadcasts into a scene.

This technique can add a layer of realism or provide critical background information without shifting the visual focus away from the main action. It’s an effective way to convey the wider context of a story’s setting or to deliver important news that impacts the plot or characters.



The sound of cutlery clinking against plates fills the air. A group of locals sit at the counter, sipping coffee and chatting idly.

Good morning, folks! Brace yourselves for the storm of the century, expected to hit our little town in just a few hours. Stay safe and…

A hush falls over the diner as everyone’s attention shifts to the radio.

8. Overheard Conversations in Crowds

Utilizing O.S. for overheard snippets of conversation in crowded settings allows writers to create a bustling, lively atmosphere while also potentially introducing subplots, rumors, or character insights.

This method can subtly influence the audience’s perception of the setting, hint at societal norms, or provide commentary.

All without the need for direct interaction between the primary characters and the sources of the overheard dialogue.



Amid the hustle and bustle of the crowded street, SARAH navigates through the throng, her expression one of determination.

Did you hear about the mayor’s scandal?

Yeah, it’s all over the news. Can you believe it?

Sarah pauses momentarily, her interest piqued, before continuing on her way.

9. Characters Talking Through Doors

This O.S. application is perfect for scenes where characters communicate through barriers such as doors or walls.

It’s particularly effective in building tension, delivering comedic timing, or showcasing the nature of relationships through the tone and content of the dialogue.



JACK stands uncertainly in front of a closed door, raising his hand to knock but hesitating.

(from inside) Jack? Is that you? Why didn’t you call first?

Uh, I wanted to surprise you?

The sound of unlocking and the door swings open.

10. Hidden Characters Revealing Themselves

O.S. dialogue can also foreshadow the reveal of characters who are hiding or lurking unseen in the scene.

This usage adds an element of surprise or suspense, as the audience is made aware of the character’s presence through their voice before they become visually apparent.



The hero cautiously enters, flashlight sweeping across the vast, shadowy interior.

Looking for something, or someone?

The hero spins around, trying to locate the source of the voice.

11. Animals and Non-Human Characters

Screenwriters can use O.S. to represent the noises made by animals or non-human characters in a scene.

This approach can add depth to the setting, contribute to the ambiance, or even serve as a comedic element when animals react to human actions or conversations.



A family barbecue is in full swing. Kids play, and adults laugh around the grill.

DOG (O.S.)
Bark! Bark!

Looks like Buster wants a burger, too!

Laughter follows as the dog runs into view.

Here is a good video I made to quickly answer the question, “What Does O.S. Mean in Scriptwriting?”

Video I made on Humix about “What Does O.S. Mean in Scriptwriting?”

O.S. vs. O.C.

O.S. (Off-Screen) and O.C. (Off-Camera) are sometimes used interchangeably, but O.S. is the preferred term in modern screenwriting.

Here’s why:

  • O.S.: Focuses on where the character is within the scene’s world, creating a larger sense of space.
  • O.C.: Specifically refers to the camera’s perspective. This is less essential, as the camera view changes regularly. O.C. feels more technical and less focused on the character’s place within the story.

O.S. vs V.O.

Both O.S. (Off-Screen) and V.O. (Voice Over) indicate that a character speaks without being in the scene at the moment they speak.

The key difference lies in the character’s physical presence within the overall setting:

  • O.S.: The character is within the scene’s location, just not in the camera’s view. Think of someone calling from another room or eavesdropping on a conversation.
  • V.O.: The character is not present within the scene at all. Examples include narration, phone calls where we only see one side, or a character’s inner thoughts spoken aloud.

Let’s Wrap It Up: What Does O.S. Mean in Scriptwriting?

There you have it! Understanding the uses of O.S. gives you more tools to add depth, clarity, and even a little mystery to your screenwriting.

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