Often in poor screenplays, characters will gush emotionally about how much someone means to them. However, as the audience, all we hear is that character talking about how much someone means to them. But we don’t actually feel or understand why that person means so much.
In “Don’t Worry Darling,” the hero gets all emotional about seeing a Black woman named Margaret commit suicide. The hero says Margaret was her friend to justify getting emotional about her death. Yet we never actually see the hero even talking to Margaret. As the audience, we only see Margaret in background.
Because we never see the hero interacting with Margaret at all, hearing the hero get all emotional about seeing Margaret kill herself feels meaningless, much like watching a complete stranger kill themselves. That might be traumatic, but it’s not emotional because no where in the movie do we ever get to see Margaret and the hero as best friends.
In a screenplay, you cannot fake emotions by having characters tell the audience how much someone means to them. In fact, it’s far better never to tell the audience how much someone means to a character. Instead, let us deduce this information ourselves.
In “Don’t Worry Darling,” the hero could have shared a moment with Margaret, chatting about something important. Then we could see how much the hero cares about Margaret. But since we never see the hero sharing any emotional moment with Margaret, listening to the hero say she cares about Margaret simply feels empty and unbelievable.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane never comes out and tells anyone how much he wants to get back with his wife. Instead, we infer this information through his actions and dialogue.
Instead of telling us exposition, it’s far better to let use deduce this ourselves. This keeps the audience active and engaged. Telling us exposition keeps the audience passive and disengaged. Which emotion do you think will grab people’s attention more?