Sometimes the use of internal and external conflicts and desires does not invoke the appropriate level of suspense throughout a screenplay. While there may be a myriad of reasons as to why this is true, the most common reason is because the screenwriter failed to support his suspense by drawing out specific audience emotions. Playing to the audience by navigating their emotional responses is not an easy task; however, when done properly audience members are kept on the edges of their seats from not only suspense but also concern as they’ve been drawn into the story on an emotional level.
Constructing suspense throughout a screenplay is among the most difficult screenwriter tasks, yet its existence may be supported and magnified by evoking varied emotional responses from audiences.
Navigating and Timing Emotional Responses
We, as humans, are able to feel a variety of emotions within a relatively short amount of time. Screenwriters must understand this foundational truth and construct the suspense of their screenplay by striking these various emotions. One of the worst mistakes you can make during the screenwriting process is to only play toward one singular emotion. This not only becomes exhausting to the audience as they’ve been required to stay in a certain emotional level for a prolonged period of time, but after a while audiences remove themselves from their suspended belief due to boredom.
Imagine your screenplay is a roller coaster. If you’ve enjoyed one of the latest coaster designs, then you’re aware many of these rides utilize pauses after and immediately before the most intense moments of the ride. Your screenplay must utilize this same principle. The beginning of your story is slow and steady, much like the lift hill of a roller coaster. As the train glides down the first drop, your audience should be completely caught up with the development of your story.
The first several loops and turns are invigorating, and perhaps intense, but then followed by weaker moments. Halfway through the ride, passengers enjoy a brief moment of relaxation. Much like in your story, especially if it’s filled with highly emotional moments, you should provide an emotional break during the middle of your script. Suddenly, just as the emotional state of the screenplay begins to calm, the emotional intensity is ramped up to perhaps its most intense peak.
Audiences are opening themselves up for this emotional peak as you professionally guided them through the first levels of intensity and provided them with a much-needed emotional break. However, it’s the emotional variations you’ve interjected into your screenplay that provide the most intense boosts to screenplay suspense and audience participation.
It’s only when your screenplay masters the art of audience emotional manipulation that your screenplay will truly be interesting and invigorating. Consider the many different ways you can create and manipulate audience emotions while providing them with the level of satisfaction needed to maintain audience emotional attention.