The last thing you want while you’re watching a film is to get that distracted feeling. The urge to pee, or saunter to kitchen in search of munchies, or to check for Twitter updates on your phone.
One of the ways to keep the audience emotionally involved in every scene is to make sure it’s the characters themselves who are responsible for their actions. That may sound obvious, but unfortunately it’s a simple principle which is often ignored. Too many convenient coincidences in a plot will stretch the reader’s and the audience’s ability to remain emotionally involved with the story.
Here are a couple of questions to focus your creative imagination on finding the character’s emotion in the scene and using it to drive the action.
- What’s the worst thing that could happen to my character in this scene? What would make them panic, or feel like jumping off a bridge, or want to sharpen that old axe in the garage?
- What could my character have done (wrong) to set this disastrous event in motion? What were they trying to achieve or avoid? Why?!
- What’s the best thing that could happen to my character in this scene? What would make them cry tears of joy? Or jump up and punch the air? Or kiss their scumbag boss??
- What does my character need to do to cause that wonderful event to happen? What course of action does your character imagine will be the right one? Is it? Or are they fooling themselves? Is there something they don’t know?
Of course characters encounter external obstacles they have to deal with. But when the troubles and victories a character experiences are primarily the result of their own actions (intended or not), that’s when you really empathize with them most. It’s their courage, stupidity, vulnerability, fear, etc, which makes you hide behind a cushion or wet yourself laughing.
1. Show the character attempting, or avoiding something.
2. Make sure the audience/reader already knows what will happen if they fail/succeed.
3. Show the character failing, or succeeding.
4. Make sure the consequences of this failure/success are clear.
5. Show the character’s response in their actions (which can include what they say).
And above all, have fun writing!
P.S. If you’re a fan of screwball comedies, check out my Great Screenwriting blog, where I’ve posted a new article on Austin Powers …