Flotsam 'n' Jetsam

Setting the Emotional Scene – How to Prep the Audience for More

Last week’s Vocational Vivications’ linked post was from Nate Winchester. It focused on the need for emotional connections between characters to be established early on and built up over the course of the story, something that cannot be done by having them stand around discussing their feelings with or for one another. Actions speak louder than words, and if a writer is to “tell” the audience about the emotions two or more characters have for one another, doing this through action and/or obscure dialogue is better than utilizing a direct conversation or speech to do the same thing.

Mr. Winchester uses Han and Leia’s romance as one example of well-executed emotional build-up in a tale. Throughout The Empire Strikes Back,* Princess Leia refuses to admit that she has developed a romantic interest in Han Solo, now a bonafide hero of the Rebellion. Whenever Han directly confronts her about this fact she always sidesteps him or denies it, mostly because she believes that he will not remain with the Rebellion long enough to make a relationship between the two of them worthwhile.

Thus their romance simmers beneath the surface of their dialogue and actions during the rest of the film. Leia constantly does her best to obscure her feelings for Han whenever they speak, and she retreats to the cockpit after he kisses her while making repairs in the Millennium Falcon’s hold. Her attempts to hide her attraction only make it more obvious to the audience, who recognize that she does indeed desire a relationship with the scoundrel. So when the two admit their love for one another just before Han is frozen in carbonite, the moment is absolutely heart-wrenching for the viewers as well as for the characters.

Mr. Winchester’s point is encapsulated in this situation, as the expectations increase the more Han and Leia dance around their mutual attraction. This makes their scenes together more poignant than if Lucas had simply had them discuss their feelings, as he did with Padme and Anakin in the prequels, which lack the same compelling nature as the former’s romance. That makes the princess and the scoundrel’s relationship the better writing formula.

Emotional connections between immediate family members, adopted siblings, and best friends can and should be introduced to audiences in a similar way. However, the foundation for such bonds – especially in the medium of film and/or short stories – often needs to be set quickly and effectively. Word limits require a writer to choose their words wisely, or to cut them with equal care.

So while I ruminated upon Mr. Winchester’s point, I was suddenly reminded of a scene that established the rapport between two characters quite efficiently, allowing the writers to build on the emotions demonstrated therein during the rest of the series. This moment is the basis for the brotherly camaraderie that Steve Rogers/Captain America and James “Bucky” Barnes/Winter Soldier have throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And the groundwork for it is laid neatly and soundly in Captain America: The First Avenger.*

The specific scene where this occurs is the one where Steve Rogers ends up being beaten in a back alley after telling an insolent attendant at the movies to “show a little respect” for the patrons who have family members fighting in the War. We have already seen Steve’s character build up to this point, so the moment comes less as a surprise and more as a concern. Steve is in no condition to put up a decent fight, and if the bully is allowed to pound him into the pavement, he may kill him.

Viewers are thus relieved when Bucky arrives on the scene and dispatches the bully, helped in part by the fact that he is wearing an Army uniform. Without that, it may have taken him longer to chase the other man off. Once he is certain the bully is not coming back we find through dialogue that he and Steve recognize each other, and that Bucky is one of the few people who does not see Steve as inherently weak, at least in spirit. We also learn that this is not the only time he has come to Steve’s rescue when the latter is facing a stronger opponent in a back alley.

The fact that he has done this for Steve before is revealed in more than the line, “Sometimes I think you like getting punched.” It is implied by the fact that Bucky knew where to look for Steve when he could not find him in front of the theater. As Rogers’ “big brother” (in the MCU, Bucky is a year older than Steve), he has been bailing the presently skinny asthmatic out of fights with tougher foes for years. How else could he correctly guess where the other would be when he did not find him in the place where he was supposed to be?

While Bucky knows he cannot keep Steve out of duels with bullies of various stripes and even shares his distaste for them, he also believes it is a bad idea for his friend to go into such battles alone. This makes his concern for Steve the opposite of patronizing; he genuinely worries for his friend and wants what is best for him. He believes that the latter has the heart for war but acknowledges that Steve’s body cannot keep up with it. If he is accepted into the Army, then boot camp alone may kill him before he ever sees combat.

Previous scenes showed that Steve is patriotic and wishes to emulate his father, who died of mustard gas poisoning in World War I. But in this scene we find he has an even more personal reason for wanting to join the Army, made plain when he realizes his best friend is wearing his Army uniform. “You get your orders?” he asks the other.

Knowing how long his friend has dreamed of becoming a soldier and fighting for his country, Bucky looks decidedly uncomfortable as he reveals his new rank and the regiment to which he has been assigned: the 107th. The same one that Steve has been trying so hard to be a part of for, seemingly, his entire life.

It is a blow to Steve’s morale, to be sure, and both men clearly feel it. Steve’s quiet line “I should be going” leaves a wealth of things unsaid in the wave of emotion that follows. He is not saying, “I should be going to war, too.” What he is truly saying is, “I should be going with you.” This scene demonstrates through action and nuance what a number of paragraphs and quite a bit of modern film dialogue would have had to explicate; Steve and Bucky have been inseparable brothers in all but blood for years. Where one goes, the other follows. Except that, this time, Steve is not allowed to follow his “big brother” into the hell that is war.

How many Steve Rogers (MCU ) to take Down FFH Peter Parker ...

Their subsequent scenes together – not only in The First Avenger but in its sequels, The Winter Soldier* and Civil War* – all build off of this moment. Bucky’s unmasking as the Winter Soldier in the film of the same name would not have near as much emotional punch for the audience if this scene in The First Avenger had not been so well written and orchestrated. Nor would movie-goers have been able to accept Steve’s determination to rescue the ex-HYDRA assassin after the Accords forced him to retire if this moment had been poorly executed.

Actions speak louder than words. If a writer wishes to affect the audience’s emotions – and all authors should strive to do this – then he has to do so through action and description more than in dialogue. Dialogue should be used to develop or prove what is not said between two fictional people, because that is how it works in real life. We never say exactly what we mean when we talk to one another; more often than not, we show what we think of and believe about others through action – or through inaction.

Building up a relationship, whatever it might be, between or among characters takes time. As Mr. Winchester said in his post, a writer cannot “cheat” on showing the emotions betwixt two (or more) characters to the audience. To do so robs both him and them of the necessary affecting scenes and moments that make a tale memorable.

Of similar note is the need to set up the foundation of such relationships. If these are done poorly, then any friendship, romance, or rivalry meant to follow them will fall flat for the audience. But if one treats these connections with care and consideration, especially when writing what is unspoken between two or more characters, then the rewards will be well worth the effort.

Be sure to set a solid foundation for your protagonists’ emotional interactions with one another and/or with the antagonists, future authors. If you do not have that firm basis, even the best orchestrated scenes meant to build upon it will do you little good. You cannot have the one without the other, so make certain that the scenes introducing these associations count!

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna, Uranus, and Sol. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue in 2020, and she recently had a story published in Storyhack Magazine’s 7th Issue and Cirsova Magazine’s 2021 Summer Issue. Order them today!

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