Movies are supposed to beemotional rollercoaster rides. More often than not, movies get exciting, then they stop with a huge bang! That qualifies as an emotional roller coaster ride. But great movies move people in different ways.
Excitement is one of the easy ways. Fast cars, bullets, space ships, all evoke excitement. And sometimes that works. Snakes on a Plane got away with it. The Fast and Furious series gets away with it.
Infusing different emotions into a screenplay is one of the most overlooked tasks in theaspiring screenwriter’s repertoire.
First, what are some emotions other than excitement?
Sadness, Hurt, Anxiety. Boredom,Focus, Exhaustion, Agony, Curiosity, Envy, Exasperation, Grieving, Scared, Bold, Frustration, Arrogant, Paranoid, Aggression, and Ecstasy.
Now we’re going the talk about characters: First a quick trick to show layers of a character; always show the character 1) at work, 2) at home, and 3) at play. Do this with your major characters, especially the protagonist and the antagonist.
Now here’s a few tips from a psychologist on how to infuse your screenplay with emotion:
1. Actually describe how a character is feeling, instead of announcing it.
To describe how a charcter is feeling don’t do this:
Jonathon was afraid to open the door to the basement steps. He stood at the far side of the kitchen, debating what to do.
Rather, do this:
Jonathons hand trembled as he reached for the locked doorknob. Hed been warned not to open the basement door when he was alone, but others would be due home soon, so what could happen? He bit his lip and tightened his fingers around the cold knob. A shiver shook him. He inhaled only a shallow breath and then struggled for another.
2. Make a character sympathetic, so the reader identifies with him.
Protagonists can have flaws. They’re only human. But we want the reader to root for the protagonist. If the reader can identify with a characterwith his dreams or habits or choiceshe can also identify with their emotionspains and joys and sorrows. (Readers can also identify with the shared human condition, so sometimes a particular situation will resonate with readers even before the character becomes involved.)
Make sure the reader knows/understands/identifies with the character before trying to connect emotionally. The reader wont be affected by a characters deep emotions on page one, simply because he has no ties to the character.
By the second act, if youve put the reader in the characters place in the story, what touches the character can touch the reader. By the screenplay’s climax, the reader should so identify with the lead character that the characters pain becomes the readers pain, his triumphs, and the readers triumphs.
The reader may have a physical responselaughter or tears or shiversas if whatever happened to the character had actually happened to the reader.
3. Make the bad guyan unsympathetic character.
Let him do distasteful things. Let him lie, steal and cheat. He can have some positive traits, as well. But on the whole, the reader should not fall in love with the antagonist.
4. Showthe reactions/response of characters to the actions of another character.
Characters must do more than think about the evil of another character. They must have a response in terms of action and/or dialogue.
5. Always set things up, before you kill off a character.
Don’t be afraid to let a main character die. First establish how everybody cares about that person. They are the most special person in the world.
If Jacob gets a phone call, with someone saying his son has died, readers wont feel grief, even if you show Jacob grieving, unless youve created a tie between Jacob and the readers, unless youve prepared for the death ahead of time, showing Jacob’s love for his son, perhaps his ear for his life or his dreams for him.
If hes never been mentioned and we dont know how much he means to Jacob, an announcement of his death will have little emotional impact on the reader.
If, however, Jacob had been worried for his safety or has been sitting at his hospital bedside, the reader is connected both to Jacob and his son, and his death can shake up the reader
6. Dont be afraid of killing off someone close to your main characters or of taking away something else dear to them.
If they are crushed, the reader can be as well. This is fiction; youre not really hurting someone if you write them into a car accident.
7. Tease the reader with hints of whats to come.
Hints, for example, show the character coming back from the hospital with a cane and a bottle of oxygen. Then in ten scenes, if they keel over dead, it’ll have more impact.
The idea here is tht you’re painting with a wide brush, that includes emotions. Like a musical conductor, you’re creating a story, filled with plot and charcater, but also emotion. And not just emotion from the characters. Think about how to move the people watching your film.
If you have questions about how to use more emotion in your screenplay or other issues as a writer or creative professional, for a free phone 20 minute consult to discuss, just click here.
Image credit: Creative Commons, JASON (179)s, 2008by Hotlanta Voyeur, licensed by creative commons CC BY 2.0