The reason people watch movies like “Star Wars” or “Titanic” over and over again isn’t because they want to see the Death Star blow up or see an ocean liner sink. Instead, they want to re-experience the emotions that the characters are going through.
Audiences don’t remember action as much as they remember emotions. Therefore, the key to storytelling is to make all of your scenes emotional. That means a main character needs to change emotionally or take action that threatens the emotions of another character.
Even simple scenes need an emotional content. In “Star Wars,” an early scene shows Luke grumbling about being stuck on his uncle’s farm while he’s trying to fix R2D2. That’s when he suddenly sees Princess Leia’s hologram, and that changes his emotional state from frustration to curiosity.
In “Titanic,” there’s a scene where Rose goes back to rescue Jack, who’s handcuffed to a pipe. Just her appearance alone shows her love for Jack and Jack realizes that she came back to save him. The action of cutting him free simply reinforces these emotional feelings.
There’s always some type of emotional change in every scene. In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader is in a conference room with his generals and one general argues against Darth Vader’s plan. So Darth Vader uses the Force to choke him. That’s a simple emotional change when we see someone fighting against Darth Vader and suddenly Darth Vader silences him.
Another emotional change occurs when Darth Vader asks Princess Leia for the location oft he rebel base and she gives them an old location under threat of the Death Star blowing up her planet. Then Darth Vader blows up her planet anyway, which drastically changes Princess Leia’s emotional state from confident to horrified.
When writing each scene in your screenplay, look for the emotional change in your main characters. If there’s no emotional change, then that scene is either not necessary or needs rewriting.
Every scene needs emotional change. That helps create an overall emotional experience and that’s the foundation of a great movie.