Jeanne’s Screenwriting Tips: Screenplay Notes for an ‘Emotional Read’

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“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~ Maya Angelou

I always think of that quote from Maya Angelou when I write. With her recent passing, it’s on my mind even more.

I write to make people feel. So when I ask people to give me feedback on my scripts or novels, the number one concern I have is how they feel while they’re reading it.

When I give feedback to my writer friends, I always print their scripts out and arm myself with a pen, not to slash their words, but simply to write down my feelings in the margins. Am I hating the character? Am I shocked at what they just did? Did they lose my interest? Am I bored? Did I look at my watch? I want to share with the writer everything I’m feeling while I read.

I want the same when someone reads my work. Beyond story structure and character development, I want what I call screenplay notes from an “emotional read.”

The best way to get that type of reaction might be to give your script to a nonwriter. That way, they won’t get caught up in all the screenwriting rules and simply give you their gut reaction.

Think about what makes you turn the channel. For me, it’s usually that either the show is boring me or I don’t like the characters enough to care if they succeed. Those are negative emotional reactions. As writers, we need to make people feel something, whether it be fear, sadness, happiness, or shock. Why read or watch anything that doesn’t leave you moved on some level?

The more people feel during their reading experience, the more people will talk about it after. Just think of almost any ending to a Game of Thrones episode.

Recently, I sent two chapters to one of my beta readers. The response to the protagonist’s love interest was, “I don’t like him… and now I don’t like her.”

I gotta tell you, I did not want to revisit those chapters because they weren’t easy to write in the first place, but I couldn’t ignore that note. No way in hell. So instead of diving in and rewriting, I started by exploring what I wanted the reader to feel during those scenes. Once I nailed the “feeling,” I then brainstormed actions my character could take to make them empathetic instead of pathetic.

I had to get clear on what feelings I was trying to elicit in the reader because I knew, at the end of the day, they would remember the feeling of having read my work more than they would remember the details of the scenes.

The next time you ask someone for notes, ask them to jot down their emotional reactions. I promise you, addressing those notes will elevate your work, making the reader have to turn the page, and more importantly, never forget your writing talent.

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2 thoughts on “Jeanne’s Screenwriting Tips: Screenplay Notes for an ‘Emotional Read’

  1. FD

    As usual, you’re giving us sound advice. HOWEVER, in my experience, people often seem to want to avoid what I’d like them to feel. How many people want to learn more about the history of a different country — or even their own country? Or analyze their heartfelt religious beliefs? In addition, writing that makes me feel a certain way, often seems to make other people feel very differently. So while your advice is somewhat helpful, manipulating readers’ feelings in the way we hope is a more difficult task than we might believe. For example, many people like action films that make me feel totally bored. In order to engage me more, the writer would probably need to share my sensibilities. And that would probably reduce her box office results. I still believe the best advice is to write material that satisfies your own emotional sensibilities. Other people’s emotions are not our within our control. We write for others like us, hoping they will have the chance to discover our work. Of course, it’s a leap of faith.

  2. kirk

    Thanks Jeanneeeeeeee!

    Once I stepped back from writing my script and getting notes, I came up with new ideas without the help of a consultant. Though I’m on my third consultant now. We’ll see how they work out…