Writing for Emotion

There’s an interesting post on the storyboarding/animation blog, Temple of the Seven Golden Camels that reviews the book, “Writing for Emotional Impact” and talks about viewing films as “emotional delivery systems”, with specific focus paid to writing. Here’s a quote from the post:

There are so many different books that offer helpful insight into how to fix the structure of your script and, after all, it is very, very important for the structure to work. But ultimately you want the structure to service the overall emotional experience of the film – the whole point of the structure is to make the emotional “punch” of the film work as effectively as possible.

As I think about writing in this context, I immediately think of character development because viewers empathize and become emotionally involved with characters, not the film’s structure. I think one of the greatest temptations when writing characters is to move them from plot-point to plot-point, occasionally throw in a joke or some cheap pathos, and then get them moving toward the next act or major plot development. I find myself doing it far too often. After all, it’s easier to write clich├ęs with singular, simplistic motivations that will take you easily through the plot then write complicated, three-dimensional characters that cause you to think about why they’re involved in the plot to begin with as well as why they continue through it.

I realize that it can be near impossible to create a terribly complicated character in a 5 minute short film, but it is absolutely possible to pull back a few layers and reveal that the character has more facets than their initial actions might suggest. And it is of course possible to connect emotionally with the viewer (after all, 30 second commercials can and do deliver emotional impact).

Overall, I feel challenged to really work on the characters I create for my films to deliver that emotional impact. I would love to write at least one character that somehow connects with the viewer emotionally and moves beyond being little more than a vehicle for the plot.

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