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  1. yaakovdov

    yaakovdov New Member

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    How to write character's emotional reactions in screenplay?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by yaakovdov, Mar 27, 2019.

    Question : When writing my screenplay, I frequently find the urge to describe a character's emotion. However, I have read somewhere (I forget where) that this should be left to the actor to some extent, the actor should understand the story enough to know how their character would respond to events. What is the correct thing to do?

    Example: Let's say that, in the opening scene, Bob, who we barely know, sees a smiling ghost. Then the scene ends. Bob could be scared, or he could be excited, or he could not care. As the writer, I know I want Bob to be scared. Should I ...

    A) Write ‘Bob is scared’. (This purveys Bob’s emotion, leaving the actor to react as necessary, but I haven’t written any visual cues)

    B) Write ‘Bob looks scared', (This purveys Bob’s emotion, leaving the actor to react as necessary, but I have given a very vague visual cue)

    C) Write ‘Bob freezes on the spot, mouth gaping open, eyes bulging.’, (I have detailed the visual elements of Bob's fear, but is this too explicit and not leaving anything to the actor?)

    D) Write nothing! (The actor decides how Bob should react based on the entire script, even though a first-time reader of the script may not know how Bob would react because they are new to the script).

    E) Something else?
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Yeah, that's pretty much it, I think. Unless the emotion is noteworthy or unusual. Bob seeing a ghost and being scared isn't noteworthy. But if Bob saw the ghost and was elated, that might be worth mentioning.
     
  3. yaakovdov

    yaakovdov New Member

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    How about if it wasn't a ghost? For example. if Bob just saw a man, and I wanted Bob to look, say, suspicious. Would you still argue I shoudn't state that in the script, and its up to the actor to decide to look suspicious?
     
  4. Reece

    Reece Senior Member

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    I've never written a script, but I think anything that is integral to the story that isn't obvious should be pointed out. Like if we've just met him and know nothing about him. That said, actors are meant to read the entire script and put the character together as a whole, so if its obvious that this is a part of the character, they will probably figure it out without having been told.
     
  5. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    How about this:

    - Write essential background knowlidge and nothing more.
    - Write action - shortly.
    - Write dialog.

    There is no need to describe emotions, feelings, thoughts, plans, attitudes... which are not acted out. There is need to act out those if you want audience to get them.

    Think... What is the action that shows this feeling, that agenda, those emotions... Write that action to your screenplay, not the emotion or feeling.

    And if it's about emotion, you can write the physical reaction. If it is about feeling, you can write social reaction. (You must of course understand really well what is the difference between emotions and feelings.)
     
  6. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    Read a few scripts to movies you've seen. That will answer your question better than anyone here.
     
    Alan Aspie likes this.
  7. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    E) You write the minimum, mostly visual, prompt for the reaction and put it in brackets:

    Bob - [Wide eyed] "Dear lord, is that a herring flavored gummy bear?"

    Silvie - "I - I've never tasted anything like that." [Tears]


    And you would mostly do so where it isn't real obvious what kind of reaction the character is having otherwise. The director can certainly ignore the prompt, substituting whatever action they feel is better, but it is there to clarify dialogue that would otherwise be emotionally ambiguous.
     
  8. GrJs

    GrJs Active Member

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    You write B. To get the understanding of a character their first has to be something to understand. Something happens and Bob is scared you write Bob is scared, or Bob looks scared or Bob's face is fearful. Usually concise is best for screenplays, there's no need for deep detail but you have to state what the character feels and if it is shown by a psychical reaction and what that reaction is. Like is Bob was happy you would say Bob smiled, not Bob's mouth creased in a joyous grin. There's no prose in script writing. Only what happens.

    The difference between writing Bob is scared and Bob looks scared is that the second is a direction for the actor to follow which is fine. The first gives no indication that Bob shows that he's scared, only that he is scared.

    Try to avoid too many parentheses for emotional responses around the spoken words as that's a direction for how the words are meant to be said.

    Here's a link to a website with lot's of scripts for reference for what your's should look like: https://www.dailyscript.com/movie.html
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019

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