Establish a Relationship and Make Us Care

Here’s a common mistake novice screenwriters make all the time. They describe a scene where someone gets killed right away. This technique was actually used in “The Phantom Menace” when a shuttle craft lands and immediately a bomb explodes, killing a woman who looks like a queen.

The problem with this scene is that we don’t know who this person is and we don’t know what’s going on. As a result, no matter how interesting the explosion might be, we simply don’t care. The reason we don’t care is because we don’t know who this person is or why we should care about them.

Imagine a news story that says a teenage girl died when she was hit by a cat. While you might be sad that a teenage girl died, there’s little emotion because you don’t know who this girl is, her relationship with other people, or even what happened.

If the purpose of telling a story about a teenage girl dying is supposed to horrify us, then start by creating a completely different emotion to contrast with this horrifying death. Suppose this teenage girl was in a car, arguing with her mother about the direction of her life.

Right away, we’re curious because a teenage girl is fighting with her mother and we want to know who we should side with. Perhaps he teenage girl is complaining that the mother is smothering her life but the mother thinks she’s being protective. Now this fight is a little more interest because we know who’s fighting, why, and their relationship to each other.

Remember, contrast makes everything sharper. Display a black item against a white background and it looks darker. Likewise, if you want to make an emotion feel stronger, find its contrast.

In the example of a teenage girl arguing with her mother, we might see the teenage girl declaring that she’s old enough to control her own life and the mother might tell her daughter to prove it by getting out of the car right now. Then the teenage girl could jump out of the car while it’s stopped at an intersection, but the moment she steps out of the car, a speeding car zooms by and kills her.

That’s ironic because the teenage girl just claimed she could control her own life and by her actions, she inadvertently ended it. That creates far greater emotional impact than just seeing somebody get hit by a cat who we know nothing about.

In your own screenplays, identify the emotional impact you want your scene to provide. Then find a way to contrast that emotion with a different feeling.

In this example of the teenage girl getting killed by a car, the argument that she’s old enough and smart enough to control her own life is cut short ironically by her getting hit by a car.

Another way tow rite this scene is to have the mother declare that she knows what’s best for her daughter. When she stops he car, she orders her daughter to get out of the car and go inside a store to pick up some items. The daughter steps out of the car — and gets killed by a speeding car.

Once again, irony makes this emotional impact stronger. Here we thought the mother won the argument by claiming she knows what’s best for her daughter, yet the mother’s actions inadvertently killed the daughter.

When writing any scene, search for irony to enhance the emotions. When you do that, you may be delighted at how a little irony can go a long way towards making your screenplay far more emotionally compelling.

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