Because emotion’s why everybody comes to the table, you better deliver one whale of a satisfying meal.
At every step along the way, whether it’s with your idea, beat sheet, outline, first pass, first draft, and every subsequent draft until you actually hand it to actors to memorize their lines, constantly ask, “Am I delivering as much emotion in this scene, in this sequence, in this story, as I possibly, possibly can?”
“We are in the emotion picture business.”
Ken Kwapis, director of SHE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, THE OFFICE, BERNIE MAC, A WALK IN THE WOODS… etc., etc.
Don’t you ever forget it.
If you’re writing a nine-part self-published fiction series, a TV pilot for Amazon, or five page script to shoot in your backyard with friends, start by asking…
1.) What emotion do you want the audience to feel at the end of the story?
2.) What emotion you want the main character to feel at the beginning?
3.) What emotion do you want the main character to feel at the end?
You go write those questions down. I’ll wait.
The answers, which will likely morph through the story’s development, will be your mantra until you finally finish. Emotion is not only everything, it is the only thing.
When looking at a whole story or scene or part of a scene, whether it is in an outline or a nearly finished piece of work, ask yourself, “Are there moments in here where I can add even a tiny bit more emotion? Or much more?! What can I do to the character to make the character feel more strongly? What can I do in the scene to make the reader (audience!) feel more strongly? Is there something from the heroine’s past I can adjust to make us feel a stronger emotion here?”
You’re smart. You can think of more questions than those.
You can almost always push emotion up a notch. Think about the worst thing that could possibly happen to them and see if it’s in your script. If it’s not, make it happen!
“Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
Make your character suffer so your reader can suffer. They pay the money to feel something. So give it to ’em, but only as much as is believable.
My wonderfully wonderful children’s novel https://www.amazon.com/Mrs-Ravenbachs-Way-Amazing-Escapades/dp/1941393586 is about a little boy brutalized by the meanest fourth-grade teacher in the history of teaching. Because the wrenching emotion was too much for her to handle, my gritty New York publicist had to stop reading the book halfway through. She put it away for two days and then started again, calmed down enough to be able to finish. One of my former college students called me, also halfway through Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way, and said, “Please tell me that things get better for this kid…” They had a strong emotional reaction because I put that trap door in there for them to fall through.
Amp up the emotion in your work, every chance you can. Even it’s to give your heroine a splinter in her finger.
When she feels, so do we.