Something I realized analyzing a story that didn’t work.
Obviously, when you write stories, you’re going to use little “cheats” here and there to flesh out the world and characters without having to actually dive deep into full histories. Everyone knows the old rule of “show don’t tell” but once in awhile you have to “tell” just to keep the story moving along and get everything done in a reasonable time frame.
Except when it comes to emotion.
Especially if you want the audience to feel it.
Let’s take a famous example:
In Return of the Jedi, the rancor keeper there gives us about a ten second scene of tears. Yeah it’s a fine bit of acting, a nice little touch, and maybe even gets some sympathy from the audience, but it doesn’t hit us nearly as hard as…
Why? Because we the audience have more time with Old Yeller. We see the bonds and emotions between the dog and his boy over a much greater time span than we had the Rancor keeper.
Thus, the more impact you want on the audience’s emotions, the more time you need to spend on the emotion you want. If you want the audience to feel the love between two characters, then have the audience spend time with the characters being in love. Even though we know, intellectually, that things “should” happen to characters off screen, it doesn’t hit the audience’s gut thinking about those lost scenes the way it does when it’s actually visible. You cannot cheat at emotions and relationships.
I also want to stress that the quality will come from the quantity – the more you can get into the story, the deeper the emotion will resonate. By that I don’t mean you need to make a lot of scenes centered around the emotional goal. Packing in lots of scenes where characters stand around talking about feelings can get very dull fast. Think of it more like a game – if you have a scene accomplishing multiple or different tasks, find a way to squeeze in an emotional moment in there as well.
THIS moment in Attack of the Clones:
Did more to convince me these two characters loved each other than the ENTIRE previous hour of the film which was the two of them talking at each other.
Why do you think Han & Leia worked out so well? Even their most steamy, emotion-focused scene started out as one about repairs, and then had the emotion sneak into it. Other than that, the emotion between them was always boiling up while in the middle of other things.
And this isn’t just romance. What kicked this off was discussing how little we got to see of Jack interacting with Sam and Dean Winchester during season 14 – a season where we really should have gotten more father/son moments between the three of them. (Instead all we got is 1 quality episode.)
ANY kind of relationship, ANY kind of emotion between characters, always try to find more space and more ways to convey that relationship and emotion in your story, ESPECIALLY if it is central and a major plot point to your story.
Want an example of it done well?
The Supernatural episode Swan Song. The montage at the end isn’t just a collection of clips from the character’s memory, it is a collection of clips from OUR memories. Because we, the audience, were there too for all of those moments shown.
Don’t cheat your audience out of the feelings you want them to have. Drag them through every minute.