How to write emotional scenes
Tips for avoiding melodrama and making scenes have an impact
Now before I jump into this one I have a few words of advice for writers currently working on their first draft or about to. That advice is to not sweat it too much with emotional scenes when you write them for the first time cause yeah, there are probably going to be a lot of moments of melodrama and moments where things seem forced or cheesy, but that’s kinda enviable for first drafts.
The purpose of the first draft is to mainly just get the story out of your head, so if you get to caught up on tweaking and nailing things just right things can get frustrating real fast.
Now that I’ve addressed that lets get into the tips.
1.Make us, the audience, care about the characters.
How can we emotionally feel for a character that we don’t care about? Answer: we don’t.
If you want your reader to care about what happens to a character or what they’re going through you have to first get that reader invested in said character before that scene.
So make your characters interesting, they don’t have to be likable but the audience has somewhat care about what happens to the character enough to be interested in their fate.
(If you wanna know more about how to make a character more likable or detested maybe check out this post: Kick the Dog, Save the Cat)
2.Give proper build up for big scenes.
You need to build up the atmosphere for a scene before it occurs, it makes the scene seem more natural instead of forced and more likely to a lasting impact than a one and done “hit and run with feels.”
An example I’d give for this would be Disney’s The Lion King (1994), and if you don’t want spoilers skip to #3.
So in the infamous wildebeest scene you see the buildup with Simba desperately trying to cling to the branch while the storming herd charges all around him. This is followed by Mufasa’s attempts to climb back up and reach safety. Imagine seeing this for the first time, the nervousness and tension of watching these two characters in danger leading up to the big scene where Scar lets his brother drop. This is a prime example of great dramatic buildup in a story.
3. Ooze descriptive language, but don’t over do it.
Use rich adjectives to describe how characters are feeling, but don’t go overboard with it. Be creative with you descriptions in the scene to capture the tone and emotions of the characters.
I’m going to directly take a few examples from a post where I described how to dress up descriptions:
Which sounds more likely capture the interest of an audience?
He was out of breath, OR His chest throbbed as he gasped for air.
There was a searing pain on his side, OR There was a sharp, fiery pain in his side.
He was hot and covered in sweat, OR His face was flushed, and drenched with sweat.
She felt dizzy and fell, OR She felt lightheaded and collapsed.
Also note that when you do this don’t make every sentence a description fest or you run the risk of over detailing.
4. Keep characters in character for these scenes.
Don’t have a character ham it up or break character for the sake of trying to make things more dramatic. You can make things dramatic with your characters still being in character. If you don’t do this it can give the scene a weird vibe or get you the opposite reaction of what you wanted.
5. Know the proper intensity for emotions.
You’d cry differently for different things, you’d have a different level of anger for things.
For example, if someone stole a pen from you, you’d be annoyed but its nothing to get riled over. If someone stole your phone and that someone was a person you thought to be a friend you’d most likely be rightfully pissed.
So please make things reasonable with emotions or you may turn a supposed to be dramatic scene into an awkward or comedic scene.
6. Don’t go overboard in general.
No one wants to slog though drawn out moments, especially if they’re campy.
Don’t have a character dramatically scream “nooo!”It can’t be!” for five pages straight or cry enough tears to fill a well.
(Also, crying can be tiring and no human or creature has an infinite supply of tears.)
If your writing something that’s starting to feel cheesy or a scene may go on for a bit too long maybe have someone else take a look at it with fresh eyes to get some good input.
7. Know what characters to aim for. (Like audience/ beta reader favorites.)
-Don’t be afraid to aim for important characters or beta reader favorites and place them in distressing situations. Go for characters that seem “untouchable” and shatter that perception.
Not only will this make the scene interesting, but it’ll keep your readers on their toes as they realize anyone your story can be in danger.
Please note that before you place important characters in peril or scene that could leave a massive impact to plan accordingly for said scene in your story so the plot doesn’t derail afterwards!
8.Get into the mind space of your characters.
Internalize how the characters reacting to the situation feel.
When I write emotional scenes I think about the sadness or anguish the character feels. I try to imagine the how it would feel to be a similar situation to the character, and even pull from past memories to conjure up an idea of how to describe how the character is feeling.
The goal here is to prove a reference to make the emotions your writing feel more authentic and really convey those emotions to the reader without coming off as stiff or forced.
That’s all I have for my take on emotion, I hope it was of use to those struggling to nail these scenes. These scenes can be a bit tricky to compose so I’d once more recommend having someone to look over your writing like a critique partner or beta reader to make sure your hitting the mark.
With that being said, thanks for reading and until next time!