Désirée wrote a post regarding emotion in scripts. It kept me thinking- whether we can use logic in writing emotion in our scenes. I think we can use logic in writing better emotional scenes. But it is an area where our intuition overrides our conscious planning.
Still I think there are some general rules that we can follow.
Don’t try too hard
If I think about all those scenes that have really worked for me, one thing about all of them is that they are subtle. I didn’t feel that writer/ character was actively trying to grab my empathy. Consider the scene in Forrest Gump where he reacts to the knowledge that the boy who is watching TV in front of him is actually his son. He almost weeps with joy and asks, ‘Is he smart?’ Never before in the movie has Gump expressed any emotion regarding he being a little dull. But when he asks that question we realise that this has been the thing that has defined his thoughts through out his life and that knowledge somehow touches us.
Hit when the iron is hot
It takes some intuition to get the timing right. For me the emotional peak of Titanic was not when Jack died. It is after the end of the flashbacks, when the old Ross lies to sleep (or die?) and gradually drifts off to the intact Titanic and the waiting Jack. It gives us a longing to go back in time when the tragedy was yet to happen.
Another such moment that comes to my mind is from ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.’ The moment in the railway station after the European trip when Kajol asks Shahrukh when they are going to meet again. SRK says ‘Never again’ and walks away leaving behind a crestfallen (or perplexed) Kajol. When you think about it, this scene could have been set up pretty early in the train also. The chemistry had been already established and facing this issue of separation was inevitable. Why didn’t the writer think of putting this scene inside the train itself and get them into a discussion or something? Things like this differentiate a good writer from an average writer.
Set it up
An emotional scene works in the totality of the script. You cannot decide midway in the script that you need an emotional scene and then proceed to write it. Emotions are produced when we have travelled with the character and what we know about the character evokes empathy in us when one particular incident happens.
Consider the last scene in Black. Why does the Alzheimer’s afflicted Bachan touching the graduation gown of Rani Mukherjee with a tint of recognition affect us? Because Bachan’s earlier persistence and desperation for Rani to achieve this mile stone has been set up through the entire movie.
In Lives of others, the transformation of Stasi official Wiesler when he hides the typewriter to save the playwright Dreymann is another example. This is because until that point the script had done a good job in showing how he had been a lonely no-nonsense idealist with no meaningful human relations. So the change is meaningful and satisfying.
Create novel yet identifiable situations
The challenge for a scriptwriter is to create scenes which are different. He should avoid cliches. At the same time he has to create characters and scenes with which audience can identify.
If your situation is novel- like an astronaut choosing to stay back and die on an asteroid so that mankind can be saved- there is a basic theme of sacrifice there but I think it will always remain a little alien to audience. If you talk about a girl who is ditched by her boyfriend on the day of prom- fine but it doesn’t evoke enough situational curiosity because we have seen enough of it. But if it is a story of mother who loses her infant during a party and is reunited with him years later only to find that for him she is just a stranger trying to take him away from a caring stepfather- there I would say is both novelty and identifiability.
It is easy to satisfy any one of this criteria but tough to do both at the same time.
Photo by Johan_Leiden