Using Emotional Dichotomies

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  • Using Emotional Dichotomies

    That's a terrible title, but what I'm referring to is the writer's strategy of alternating the emotional tone of scenes/sequences to keep the reader on edge and therefore engaged, i.e. a rollercoaster vs a long smooth trolly ride. I noticed this recently while binge watching episodes of Netflix's "Dead to Me." Overall, it's a dark comedy (an excellent one), but each episode ricochets the viewer from laughter in one scene to tragedy in the next. Then despair, followed by hope, and so on. It sounds a bit formulaic when broken down like this, but man does it work. I recently reread the Toy Story script during some research I'm doing for my new project, and sure enough the same up and down, left and right pattern of emotion shows up there as well.

    No doubt this is all intuitively obvious to the seasoned writer, but I haven't seen it discussed much here when it comes to the fundamentals of creating a good story. Thoughts?

  • #2
    Streaming allows us to pause and fast forward… interesting if viewers prefer to skip one or the other

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    • #3
      This is really interesting.

      I just watched season two of Succession and noticed this. They're in Scotland to celebrate Logan Roy with some philanthropy award. Kendall, who is usually in a state of woe, decides to bring this actress over, and we see him super happy, actually having fun, running back to bed and hoping in with this actress girl. Laughing. Squealing. Something in you is relieved -- Kendall is having a good time!!

      The next time we see the girl -- Kendall is introducing her to Logan Roy. She says the word awesome -- twice. It would appear that she's ditzy, but she isn't, she's just happy to be there with Kendall in all this splendor, as any normal person would. Nothing's said between Logan and Kendall, because Kendall already knows what Logan thinks. And it isn't good. Kendall and the actress go outside. Kendall mentions it, that she said the word awesome twice. Then he leaves to "get her a coat." When he gets inside, he tells one of their employees to tell her that he had some business to take care of and to get her a plane home. He doesn't even have the decency to tell her himself.

      You feel bad for the girl, but you can't hate Kendall, because Logan is so freaking terrible to him that you understand why Kendall was just an a$$hole. It's self-preservation.

      3 scenes. 1) Deliriously happy and squealing like we haven't seen all season. 2) cringing at her saying awesome. 3) BYE!

      How do you have that level of swing? And have it be believable? Maybe to have such well-defined characters that you don't have to make an effort to have empathy, it's just there? You know what they are feeling?

      Otherwise, the back and forth, between laughing and pain would come off as melodrama and you'd be disengaged as a viewer?

      I honestly don't know.

      Looking forward to others' thoughts.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by bioprofessor View Post
        No doubt this is all intuitively obvious to the seasoned writer, but I haven't seen it discussed much here when it comes to the fundamentals of creating a good story. Thoughts?
        I like the philosophy (I didn't come up with it) that a good script is like a symphony - different movements, tension and release, fast/slow, loud/quiet... but all tied together in a piece. Or if you don't have time to listen to a symphony, a song by the Pixies.

        I think it's scene to scene and also within scenes - there's that great moment in Mr. and Mrs. Smith where they're in a shootout, then ride in an elevator while The Girl from Ipanema plays, then back to the shootout.

        I don't know how you teach that or apply that. I think it's instinctual, and some of it may just be a function of how stories are told: you have setups and payoffs throughout the script, and if you pace them correctly, the script will have that rhythm.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by figment View Post
          This is really interesting.

          I just watched season two of Succession and noticed this. They're in Scotland to celebrate Logan Roy with some philanthropy award. Kendall, who is usually in a state of woe, decides to bring this actress over, and we see him super happy, actually having fun, running back to bed and hoping in with this actress girl. Laughing. Squealing. Something in you is relieved -- Kendall is having a good time!!

          The next time we see the girl -- Kendall is introducing her to Logan Roy. She says the word awesome -- twice. It would appear that she's ditzy, but she isn't, she's just happy to be there with Kendall in all this splendor, as any normal person would. Nothing's said between Logan and Kendall, because Kendall already knows what Logan thinks. And it isn't good. Kendall and the actress go outside. Kendall mentions it, that she said the word awesome twice. Then he leaves to "get her a coat." When he gets inside, he tells one of their employees to tell her that he had some business to take care of and to get her a plane home. He doesn't even have the decency to tell her himself.

          You feel bad for the girl, but you can't hate Kendall, because Logan is so freaking terrible to him that you understand why Kendall was just an a$$hole. It's self-preservation.

          3 scenes. 1) Deliriously happy and squealing like we haven't seen all season. 2) cringing at her saying awesome. 3) BYE!

          How do you have that level of swing? And have it be believable? Maybe to have such well-defined characters that you don't have to make an effort to have empathy, it's just there? You know what they are feeling?

          Otherwise, the back and forth, between laughing and pain would come off as melodrama and you'd be disengaged as a viewer?

          I honestly don't know.

          Looking forward to others' thoughts.
          Just my two cents, but I think you hit on one key to it, and that's making sure your audience knows, cares about and believes in your characters. Otherwise, I imagine it would feel like manipulation/exploitation from the viewer's POV.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

            I like the philosophy (I didn't come up with it) that a good script is like a symphony - different movements, tension and release, fast/slow, loud/quiet... but all tied together in a piece. Or if you don't have time to listen to a symphony, a song by the Pixies.

            I think it's scene to scene and also within scenes - there's that great moment in Mr. and Mrs. Smith where they're in a shootout, then ride in an elevator while The Girl from Ipanema plays, then back to the shootout.

            I don't know how you teach that or apply that. I think it's instinctual, and some of it may just be a function of how stories are told: you have setups and payoffs throughout the script, and if you pace them correctly, the script will have that rhythm.
            A symphony, or any well-composed music genre, is a great analogy. I suppose that's why in popular music there's an interplay between verse-bridge-chorus to switch things up and keep it interesting.

            And "rhythm" is a much better term for it than "dichotomy."

            Thanks, Jeff!

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            • #7
              I don't know if Chris Soth was the first to come up with it but it's where I recall reading it first that every scene should be a tension between hope and fear (you, the viewer HOPE Luke can get to the end of the Death Star trench in time to blow it up before Tarkin destroys the Rebel base, but . . . you FEAR that Darth Vader is a better pilot than Luke and will destroy his ship before he can fire the photon torpedoes)

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              • #8
                Originally posted by JoeBanks View Post
                I don't know if Chris Soth was the first to come up with it but it's where I recall reading it first that every scene should be a tension between hope and fear (you, the viewer HOPE Luke can get to the end of the Death Star trench in time to blow it up before Tarkin destroys the Rebel base, but . . . you FEAR that Darth Vader is a better pilot than Luke and will destroy his ship before he can fire the photon torpedoes)
                Interesting take on creating emotional within-scene dynamics. I think that may be different than what I was going after, i.e. the benefit (or not) of creating an emotional rollercoaster/rhythm between scenes to keep the audience engaged as the story unfolds.

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                • #9
                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jEg9uiLOU I feel the South Park guys explained this better in a way I can use.

                  https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/m...u-e0197747e74f

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Bono View Post
                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jEg9uiLOU I feel the South Park guys explained this better in a way I can use.

                    https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/m...u-e0197747e74f
                    Good stuff! Who could argue with Stone and Parker's strategy (and their "and then..." litmus test) for creating connective tissue between scenes.

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                    • #11
                      Lots of the books always talked about scenes having positive and negative charges and how you can't line a bunch of the same charges up together. Also, watched a film school lecture on youtube where the professor was talking about the Happy, Sad, Angry technique where your MC comes into the scene in one of those states and must end the scene on one of the others. It guarantees an event has taken place and you're not just having chit-chat scenes. I thought it was pretty interesting take. Not sure if it was his original take on it or he got it from somewhere.

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                      • #12
                        The only emotion I think people should worry about is if the reader/audience is bored or not.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Bono View Post
                          The only emotion I think people should worry about is if the reader/audience is bored or not.
                          Okay, but worrying about something without a commitment, strategy and skillset to make change (which is what we're discussing here), rarely leads to success.

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                          • #14
                            This all makes me wonder: Do you think there are forums where songwriters gather and talk about methods for coming up with melodies? Gurus who will teach you the easy rules for writing an ear worm?

                            I think it’s fun to discuss and dissect, but I just don’t know how one can teach what *feels* right when you’re writing it. Something like “have your character come into a scene feeling X and come out feeling Y to insure that Z happens” is laughably insane, but clearly there’s an audience for that kind of comforting rule.

                            Maybe pacing/rhythm is part of voice, that storytelling gift that some people have that makes a career as a writer more likely. Paul McCartney dreamed the melody for Yesterday. I could dream a thousand years and not have that happen.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                              This all makes me wonder: Do you think there are forums where songwriters gather and talk about methods for coming up with melodies? Gurus who will teach you the easy rules for writing an ear worm?

                              I think it’s fun to discuss and dissect, but I just don’t know how one can teach what *feels* right when you’re writing it. Something like “have your character come into a scene feeling X and come out feeling Y to insure that Z happens” is laughably insane, but clearly there’s an audience for that kind of comforting rule.

                              Maybe pacing/rhythm is part of voice, that storytelling gift that some people have that makes a career as a writer more likely. Paul McCartney dreamed the melody for Yesterday. I could dream a thousand years and not have that happen.
                              Agree. I was thinking the same when I read the thread on Patterson's Master Class series.

                              Can you really teach someone to write at a professional level? I wish but I highly doubt it.

                              Personally, and I'm specifically talking about myself, when I read these types of tips it trips me up.
                              With this one, I started thinking about scenes I've written: "Oh no. Did I fail to do this?"

                              Then I get a case of analysis paralysis.
                              Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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