This is my summary of a podcast I found on YouTube (its available on multiple platforms) from “Bulletproof Screenwriting“, an interview with Karl Iglesias (author, teacher, and consultant in scriptwriting). The whole Bulletproof series looks great if you want to learn more about screenwriting (I just subscribed to the podcast myself), but here are my notes from this specific episode. The topic in particular was “How to Create Emotional Impact in your Screenplay”.
As I am working on a slice of life style web motion comic, emotional impact (rather than action sequences) is very important.
The following does not summarize everything in the episode – I wrote down what resonated with me the most. Much of this I have heard from other sources, but it is always great to get a fresh perspective condensed in a single episode.
So what resonates emotionally? Emotions such as love, caring, sacrifice, humility, generosity. You want characters the audience connects with, care about. To create empathy, use emotions such as pity, being wrongly accused, undeserved misfortune. Emotion we have all experienced in our own lives. Show the character’s humility.
A powerful emotion is hope. Life is a struggle that we all go through. The audience wants hope for a better future, a hope to grow beyond where they are at today.
You want the audience to worry about a character, so first build up that empathy. The final goal is to get to a point where the audience enjoys poetic justice and friendships during or by the end of the script. They like unexpected events and twists (but feasible ones with cause and effect).
(One movie that got mentioned a number of times is the Shawshank Redemption. The movie did not do that well at the box office, but it has grown in popularity afterwards. It is a great example of a great story and the friendship of the two lead characters. It illustrates the points made well. The final scene where the two friends meet again on the beach brings everything together for a satisfying end.)
What is more important? Plot or character? Karl thought character creates plot. He went on to talk about stories being tension driven. To keep engagement, there needs to be tension. Tension can be from curiosity, worry, concern, anticipation, surprise, twists. The final relief release is enjoyable for the audience. Scenes need tension to be interesting. (Others often use the word “conflict”.) There must be a struggle for it to be interesting. At the end, the tension needs to be resolved for enjoyment.
Which is better? Dialog or describing things? Dialog is more immersive for the audience. It matters more.
There are lots of rules for writing a screenplay. You can break all the rules at times except one: It has to be interesting. (This is the first quote on his website.)
How to learn how to write a good scene? Learn acting! Take some classes! Acting is all about making something interesting to watch. If you understand acting, it helps you understand how to write a goods script.
What are goals and motivations for characters in a screenplay? First, what are goals for someone in real life? Good job, healthy family, be rich and comfortable (obviously varies a bit). That is NOT true for characters in films. The goals for characters in scripts (to be interesting) has to be more. Their motivations are (generally) more ultraistic – saving a friend or child, love and care for someone else. Or they care about society. A good script shares those feelings. The audience is lifted to higher morals than they normally live in their everyday life. They are inspired, teach us how we should live.
What is a subtext? It’s something that makes you an active participant in the scene. It makes you think. It leaves out part of the answer so the audience can engage their brain and say “oh, I see, that is why …”. Audiences like working things out. It gets them more engaged.
The final point, good stories make you wonder what is coming next. The imagination of your audience is a powerful thing to increase enjoyment of a series.