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How do you convey a sense of emotional weight to the audience?

shoz999

Sure, sure. Go for it.
Simple question! Probably complex answer lol. How do you convey a sense of emotional weight to the audience, make them feel something when they read a scene!

Would really like to get some advice in this one.
 

canisaries

sometimes i get a deadache, yeah
ugh, isn't this the million dollar question. putting most of my effort into a character who's a terrible person and trying to figure out how to still make his struggles engaging, i've pondered this a few times myself.

however, i do know that the bulk of the effort is very often outside the scene, as in the characters have to be fleshed out and engaging for emotional scenes to awaken emotion in the reader. sure, there's kind of a default amount of sympathy you already get for a character at the start simply for being a human, but they can lose this over the course of the story if they're unsympathetic or just too bland for too long. the default amount is also rather small in the end, so if your character doesn't have much going for them in terms of... well, character, it's not going to leave much of an impression.

along the characters, another important element is stakes. these do overlap, as stakes are tied to the characters' emotions - the thing being lost or at risk of being lost should be important to the character to whom the emotion of the scene is tied. humans understand the weight of losing something important, so it's easier to pull off if these stakes are concrete and serious, such as a loved one's life or a job the character really needs, but a talented writer can make even a minor inconvenience crushing as long as it has considerable impact on the character's emotional state, usually if the character is on the brink of a breakdown anyway or the inconvenience is part of something larger.

as for factors actually inside the scene, first and foremost one must not break the atmosphere. typos or grammar mistakes are pretty quick to do pull a reader out of immersion, which hurts the experience a lot, so be sure to put extra effort into proofreading scenes that have a lot of importance. another way to break the atmosphere is cheesy dialogue or over-the-top prose. fancy words will not make the reader feel for the character or situation - if anything, they can make it seem more distant and unrelatable and hurt the immersion. same goes for overdramatic or unnatural dialogue. characters should feel like they could be real people, and (most) real people don't speak in poetic phrases or metaphors, especially not if they're overwhelmed by emotion. try to think of how you or someone you know well would react to a similar situation, adjust it for the character if necessary, and you should end up with a pretty grounded reaction.

i think that's all i can think of for now. good luck to everyone with their emotional scenes
 

Kutie Pie

"It is my destiny."
I'm afraid this is a hard question for me to answer because it somehow comes naturally to me. I honestly didn't believe people at first when they mentioned how potent and emotional scenes got, but when I got older and there were certain scenes I really wanted to punch people in the gut with, the response was basically what I wanted, but apparently it hit people even harder than I expected. That's when I realized that I just have a way with words, and it's my greatest strength when it comes to the characters.

I think the best way I can describe it is when I write, I envision everything like a film. I have a particular way of how I want certain scenes to be framed, how the "camera" is panning a certain way, how the lighting should look (having shadows on the face in particular is what helps convey emotion than just seeing someone's brows and lips wrinkle), what dynamics (such as wind and rain--in film this is the "practical effect") should come in where, the choreography of how characters are to move, et cetera. I listen to certain music at certain times to get the desired effect I want, I spend hours practically day-dreaming (well... storyboarding, I suppose) up scenes but I try to jot down notes and flesh them out--I just really try to make the "show, don't tell" stick out so that way it plays out like a film, like someone is actually watching it.

But that's just me--it always has been how I did it even before I studied film and video. It's honestly just something I came to develop over time, so it's definitely something people can get the hang of if they practice enough or study enough subjects like, I dunno, psychology to better get inside characters' heads. Observation helps a lot, and it doesn't hurt to take cues you like from your favorite television shows/movies, but you should still study those scenes and learn why it is they work as emotional pieces, and why it is they stand out to you. Otherwise, you're just copying someone else's work without having put in the effort to learn for yourself how that came to be. But for the most part, it's something that you just really wanted to do/see that you don't believe others have done before, so you make the effort to make it a certain way, and the reader will pick up on that.
 
I agree with canisaries and Kutie Pie that characterization, stakes, and atmosphere are very important in conveying emotion. I particularly like what canisaries said in how most of the effort made in conveying the emotion is done outside of the emotional scene itself.


And I think part of why that’s true is because one other factor to consider is buildup. If the emotional weight is the core of the story, then how you build it up throughout the story is equally as important. If you just treat minor details as minor, then the big gut-punch you’re saving for the last parts of your story might not be as big as you want it to be. Personally, getting to the revelation and recognizing that a certain detail was actually more important than it presented itself to be adds a lot to the overall impact.


Kutie Pie also brought up the film analogy, which is a great way to think about how you convey emotion. A funny scene isn’t only funny because of what the characters say or do, but also because of its context. Grief from a death isn’t heart-wrenching just because it’s a death, but because of what that death actually means throughout the whole narrative. And your presentation of those scenes needs to hit that balance between matching the emotion you want to convey and staying true to the universe of your story. (That last part was originally going to be “and being realistic”, but that might change if you’re going for more epic or fantasy-type stories.)


But as Kutie Pie also mentions, it takes a lot of practice to nail it down, and they’re absolutely right that you never really know how emotionally impactful what you’ve written can be until your readers point it out. Making sure you get the reaction you want boils down to practicing a lot, though.
 

pac_halo

Downtown Dunkmeister
Simple question! Probably complex answer lol. How do you convey a sense of emotional weight to the audience, make them feel something when they read a scene!

Would really like to get some advice in this one.
Well, the first step is to have grounded characters with motivations behind their actions. If there is one thing I notice in weak writing all the time, it is that the characters in the work act accordingly to what the plot needs them to do, not what the character would want to do. Your characters need to be fully realized, and the best way to start is to give them motivations.

Why does Yoda train Luke Skywalker? Because Yoda supports the Jedi and wants to see an end to the Sith-dominated Empire.
Why does Ahab sail halfway across the world to hunt down a whale? Because Ahab wants revenge on the whale that took his leg.

Don't forget that people have more than one motivation at a time, and, because those characters are fallible humans, they might not see how those motivations complement or oppose each other. I just finished the Last Airbender, so the best example of this concept I can think of is Zuko.

Zuko's motivation at the beginning of the series (we'll call it a 'short-term motivation') is hunting down the Avatar. Most, if not all of his decisions in the first season is informed by his need to capture Aang. During this, he has two greater motivations (let's call these his 'long-term motivations') to regain his honor and get his father's approval. Zuko, as he interacts with his uncle Iroh and the plot, comes to discover that his short-term motivation is in conflict with his long-term motivation to regain his honor. For the same reasons, Zuko abandons the other one of his long-term goals- obtaining his father's approval.

Dynamic characters demand dynamic motivations and dynamic personalities- if you can accomplish creating a rounded character who makes sense within the plot, you're halfway to making any great story.

I might be in the minority here, but I don't believe high stakes are necessary, or even the most conducive towards creating emotional weight. Ultimately, I believe that the conflict doesn't really matter in stories with character-driven emotional weight. Let's go back to Avatar for an example of this.

I don't get emotional often in fiction, but the scene in season 3 where Zuko meets back with Iroh was a little tear-jerking for me. You'll also notice, if you've watched Avatar, that that scene is far from the most high-stakes situation in season 3. This is because Zuko and Iroh are fully realized characters who have motivations and havemelded and changed with the plot. The world-ending duel between Aang and Ozai is visually interesting, but carries less emotional weight because Ozai is a purposefully flat antagonist. He exists as a plot device to make other characters interesting.

So, tldr, make good characters who have motivations and are not restrained to being plot devices. The conflict itself does not need to be high stakes to achieve this and in some cases hinders it.
 
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