How to Creatively Convey Emotion in Your Screenplay Story


Real emotion connects and engages an audience, allowing them to identify and empathize with the characters. To ensure the emotion of a scene resonates it must be conveyed in a natural, creative way to the reader or audience.

Simply showing a character crying every time he’s sad or shouting threats whenever he’s angry provides a superficial response. Focus emotional action or reaction on the most significant and transformational elements of the story and communicate it in a subtle, innovative way.

In the film Open Range, Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) and Sue Barlow (Annette Bening) fall in love. They never say the words “I love you” to one another, they don’t directly express their emotions, they don’t even share a kiss. A culmination of scenes communicates to the audience the deep understanding and love they feel for one another, which screenwriter Craig Storper effectively and creatively pays-off, delivering an emotional punch without a tear or even a word from the main character, Charley (the dialogue is delivered by another character) with a scene that conveys Charley’s deep love for Sue and his fear of losing her before they even begin their journey together:

In an early scene as Charley begins to fall in love with Sue, he accidentally breaks her cherished china tea set (a gift from her deceased mother). Later Charley and his partner Boss (Robert Duvall) prepare to fight the bad guys in a gun battle which neither man believes they will survive. While visiting the general store for provisions prior to the confrontation, Charley tears a page from a Sears-Roebuck catalog, scribbles something on it, crumples it up and quietly passes it to Percy, the livery owner and only friend Charley and Boss have in town.

In the next scene, while Charley and Boss sit below the livery stables sharing what may be their final moments, Percy, sitting in the livery loft, pulls the crumpled paper from his pocket and reads it….

EXT. COVERED WAGON – DAY
Boss and Charley lean back on the tailgate. Boss thinks a moment on Charley's plan.

BOSS
Sounds like you got it all worked out.

CHARLEY
Yeah, 'cept the part where we don't get killed.

BOSS
(pulls out cigar)
Best smoke these whilest we got the chance.

Charley pulls out his cigar and lights it.

BOSS
I was thinkin' about getting out of the damned cattle business. 

CHARLEY
Never said nothing 'cept nag me and Button about gettin' out ourselves.

BOSS
Guess my own words struck a chord. Thought maybe I'd sell off the cattle and have enough to start up a saloon somewhere. A man could stay cool in the summer and dry in the winter. Dancing girls'd be nice. Have to get me some.

Charley stares off into the blazing sun, smoking his cigar.

PERCY (V.O.)
If I should die, please sell my good horse and my good saddle and my guns to buy a tea set for Miss Barlow... Charley Waite.

INT. PERCY'S LIVERY - LOFT – DAY
Percy continues reading the torn catalog page from Charley.

PERCY
Post script... I like this one, but I don't know. "Princess Pattern".

In only three lines of dialogue, screenwriter Craig Storper creates emotional impact - revealing to the audience Charley’s final wish: To use everything he has – his life and all his possessions – to show his love for Sue.

Review your story idea and consider how you, too, can creatively convey emotion in your screenplay.


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