I just recently purchased a copy of Peter Dunne's Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot - A Guide or Screenwriters at Barnes & Noble. This has to be one of the best books I have read in a long time. So far, I made to it page 13. Once I read further into the book, I will provide a detailed book review as to what I think about the message, themes, and if I think they can work to make your script more powerful.
I usually look for books that have cool covers - the more appealing books. The above book has a catchy cover. The cover is maroon with a combination of yellow and white lettering. There is a sketched man holding a theme ball in his hand. A plot, story, and character ball hovers above him. The theme represents the emotional structure within a script. Think of the theme as the moral part of a story. What makes a character act the way they do? Do they change because of the events? What events or moment did they realize the change? The questions can go on forever.
Dunne (2007) notes that the plot is the events that happen and the story is more focused on the actions of the character responding to the preceding events. The book paves the way for writers to write an emotional story. Every script needs some internal layering to make the audience think about the intended purpose of the film.
Watching movies are about escaping from reality to live a fantasy. They are about being entertained. The audience makes a connection with the characters or the events. When I sit in a theater, I don't know what to expect. Sometimes I like to know about a film beforehand, but at other times I find it more interesting to just sit in the dark, and try to figure out what is happening - within the story - without outside influences skewing my perception.
Films are written for a combination of reasons. Many times, a studio just distributes a film into theaters, leaving no real purpose beyond their decision to make money, but attracting massive audiences for profit.
Terminator Salvation was one of those films that had no real story impact. Sure, many will found the film entertaining, but it lacked the powerful, emotional story. It didn't have the emotional feel that made Terminator and Terminator 2 popular. James Cameron is one of those writers/directors that understands the concept of emotional structure . He knows how to tell a story; he uses many plot devices to influence the characters into changing.
In Titanic, when Jack first approached Rose, she never gave him a chance. Jack had to earn Rose's respect before attracting her love. Jack and Rose were from two different worlds - rich and poor. What plot devices were used to confirm their love? Rose recognize Jack when he tries to save her from committing suicide on the bow of the boat for reasons he didn't understand. Jack's artwork is what makes Rose realize that even though Jack is not rich, he has a creative side to him. He is an artistic person that values artwork,like Rose, and knows Monet; they both admire artwork. Rose's fiance Cal has disagreements about artwork and artists. There are necessary plot devices that help to advance the story. Without the art, or the attempted suicide, the story would not have that emotional element within it.
Everything inserted within a story is important to an emotional structure. The theme of love suggest no matter what the challenges are, if two people want to be together they will overcome all obstacles. People always think about that one true love in their life. Rose remembers Jack as a charming guy that made her feel like herself. He made her realize that there was more to life than being preppy, rich, and a snob. Jack helped Rose transformation into a good person. The emotional structure within Titanic is that people must look past prejudice and judgmental views to realize love.
I have a ton of books in my personal library that can help to inspire an emotional structure. There are dozens of books that I haven't read, but when I find the time, I will make it a point to do so. A variety of books cover a wide range of social topics. I have a decoding your dreams book that is good for writing the perfect dream sequence. This is one those books that a write must get a hold of. I have additional books on what a person must do when there is a catastrophic disaster - comet, nuclear, disease, civil unrest, and every other major event), government and policy, writing manuals, medical, performance arts, communication, novels, film theory, screenwriting, and many others.
I have opened every book at least once; some a few times more than other books. The emotional structure book instantly captured my attention. The decoding your dream book is another one of those books that I can sit and read for hours, 40-50 pages in one sitting. Check out my review of the book in the archives. Dreams in screenplays have the ability capture the inner psych of the audience, making the emotional structure a moment of discovery, reflection, and a period of transformation.
Trying to survive the struggles of life interferes with the reading process. I appreciate a good book when I have the time to read one. Living life also helps to create emotional structure scripts. Imagine how much good content comes from a life. The events people experience each day represents the plot - their life is the story. Writing can be broken into simple reflection on an entire life. The years are the chapters that novel writers so eloquently produce in their work.
For a screenwriter, writing an emotional story takes internal focus. Knowing what message they want to to send out there into the world improves the message of a film. Challenging morality, being admirable, sacrifice, assimilation, feminist, and other processes are good focus to on. Incorporating an emotional structure story requires personal understanding of what emotionally influences people from within. What theme do you want to convey to an audience? Do you want them to be an investigator? What about assimilating into a new culture, struggling to grasp at values? Take the time to find out what the theme of your favorite film is? Look for the message of the film.
Writing an emotional story requires an understanding of what is expected of the characters and how the overall story itself sends out the message. Blockbuster films usually focus on the survival of mankind, the moment of precipice, and forgiveness. Knowing, Deep Impact, and Armageddon are based upon survival and hope. What is the sense of purpose of an emotional film? Does the story induce an emotional response that influences the audience to think about a story long after they leave a theater?
I discovered that even thought Knowing didn't make a bundle in the box office, the Imdb.com boards are filled with discussion about the religious implications and creationist theories. Take some time to check out how people respond to this film. While there are biased opinions, Christianity tends to generate intense discussions. Film theorists may look at religion as an allegory, using motifs to influence the audience. I look at Knowing as being a film that offers hope to life after death.
After I read the rest of this Peter Dunne's book, I will be able further explain more about emotional structure, emphasizing on the strategies in making a story great using emotional themes. I would like the dissect some of my favorite films to find out what there emotional structure is and how it relates the success of a film. Figuring out the impact of story requires adding the emotional structure layers to capture an audience. I have some good emotional scripts, but over the years, my opinions and education has further evolved. It would be interesting to return to these scripts again.
Going back to my old scripts can be like returning to high school or an old job. It will feel foreign at first, but then I will be able to make the connection again. Don't sit on your scripts for too long because life experiences may influence the outcome of them. During the initial idea, the creative juices are flowing, making the writing process inspiring, interesting, and fun. Waiting on script may have it benefits, but it can also have a negative impact.
Waiting to submit a script like trying to approach a person you want to date. How many times have you missed on in talking to a girl or a guy that you liked. When you finally muster the courage to approach her or him, you missed out. Another girl or guy beat you to the punch a week earlier. Waiting on success has the same effect. Seize the moment. You never know where dreams may take you. Just don't wait for too long on the right moment. That applies for anything in life. Go after your goals with courage. Writing an emotional structure will always produce a powerful story.
The most successful movies have some type of emotional structure layered into them. Influence an audience to imagine, to hope, and to change. The next time you write a screenplay, a short story, a novel, and or any body of work, even an academic paper, add an emotional structure into the mix. More than likely, you will have the opportunity to complete a great project. Emotional structure appears to be a universal themes that works as an interesting and powerful, emotional message.
Thank you Peter Dunne for writing such a powerful screenwriting book. It really helps writers to understand the emotional structure from within a script. Brilliant!.