Nothing makes a scene more interesting to watch than something that stirs up the emotions. The simplest emotion to stir up is the threat of physical death. The opening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” highlights this by introducing us to Indiana Jones as he defeats a man about to kill him with a gun, gets past several traps, reaches the treasure and takes it, then has to flee as the temple around him crumbles and a giant boulder rolls towards him while his helper betrays him.
No matter who you are, the threat of physical death of anyone is enough to stir the emotions.
Beyond physical death, another way to stir the emotions is to see someone emotionally vulnerable. Watch people in a mall and most are relatively boring. Now what happens if one person is crying while another person is talking to that crying person? Suddenly that crying person is emotionally vulnerable and our curiosity compels us to watch.
That’s the way “Brooklyn” works in an early opening scene. The hero is an Irish girl about to head to America. She’s at the dinner table with her mother and her sister talking about her impending trip to America. Everything seems normal until the sister almost mentions that the hero is heading to America and likely never to return so the mother and sister may never see her again. Because the sister doesn’t state this but implies that this is something the family doesn’t want to openly acknowledge, we immediately get curious about this scene.
Without this little bit of emotional turmoil, this scene would be rather flat and dull. The hero would be having dinner with her mother and sister, talking about moving to America and that would be boring. In the actual scene, everyone is happy until the sister almost blurts out that the hero will never come back home again, and everyone suddenly goes silent.
Ending scenes often combine physical death with emotional turmoil. In “Star Wars,” Luke is not only risking physical death by getting show down, but he’s facing emotional death by risking his faith in the Force rather than using his targeting computer. To make matters worse, if he fails, Princess Leia and the entire rebel base will be wiped out.
Early scenes in a movie often focus on either physical death or emotional turmoil to stir up the emotions. Later scenes in a movie, especially near the end, combine physical death and emotional turmoil to make the emotional impact far greater. You want to stir the audience’s emotions to a frenzy at the end because that’s the climax.
When rewriting your screenplay, look for ways to make every scene emotional for both the characters and the audience, especially for the audience. If you can make every scene emotionally exciting, you’ll likely make your entire story emotionally exciting as well.