The following is an excerpt from Francis Glebas’ Directing the Story. Francis Glebas, a top Disney storyboard artist, teaches artists a structural approach to clearly and dramatically presenting visual stories. Here, Glebas teaches you how emotions drive the story.
There are four main emotions: fear, joy, sadness, and anger. For storytelling it is interesting to think of emotions in story terms. By this I mean that they go through changes based on events that happen. For example, once angry emotions are triggered, the action could start with a stare. This could lead to threats, either verbally or with the eyes. This could lead to a confrontation, maybe with yelling or pushing. Then it could lead to a rageful fight. The loser could develop desire for revenge. These all suggest being part of a sequence of actions that build because of a character’s emotional reaction to the events of the story. Normally, people don’t go from peacefully content to rageful in a few seconds. They build in intensity. Rage comes after someone crosses a point of no return.
Joy and happiness are not really powerful story drivers. Imagine a character who is happy for a whole film. It would be boring. Happiness is usually the destination emotion or used as a contrast for other emotions. Anything appears stronger if it is contrasted against something else. So the journey from a terrible loss back to happiness would make a good story arc of emotions.
Laughter is great for a change of pace. A funny scene could be inserted within a dramatic or terrifying scene to take the edge off it as comic relief and to provide contrast.
The five stages of grief are usually experienced in sequence: anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There is a clear progression of emotions and your audience can watch and identify with your characters as they struggle through the stages of loss.
Fear and terror are also powerful story drivers. Fear can force people to act under extreme circumstances. Paranoia could be classed as a fear that can be very interesting to watch, because you can present a situation where the character doesn’t know if what he or she is afraid of is real or not. This makes for very interesting narrative questions. The audience will want to know if the threat is real or not.
Wonder and awe usually have a specific moment to appear in a film. This is when the character has an “ a-ha ” moment of insight and understands what is at stake beyond their immediate circumstances and how the situation affects their world.
Pride, envy, suspicion, and arrogance are great emotions for villains. These can also drive interesting narrative questions. Will pride go before the fall? What will their envy cause them to do? Are their suspicions founded?
Courtship and flirtation have a whole range of emotions associated with them that can drive a story in interesting ways. People in relationships go through a whole dance of acceptance and rejection signals often played out on the face and body. Shy, bashful, and coy emotions contrast with seduction and suggestiveness. Whispering secrets definitely gets the audience thinking about what was said.
Some of the most dramatically interesting emotions to watch are those when a character has something to hide. During the courtship example, one may hide how he feels when learning that the other party likes him. And, once outside the door, he will jump for joy, letting out his true feelings.
It is fun to watch people lying and trying not to get caught in it. People trying to hide their emotions usually will leak the real emotion in some subtle way. A poker face is the ultimate example of trying not to show what someone is feeling. If someone has been hurt and is trying to hide it, her smile might be big and forced, but her eyebrows might leak the sadness under the guise of everything is fine.
It is interesting to think of the verbal expressions that go with emotions. They help in giving story ideas: “ If looks could kill ” ; “ Pride goes before a fall ” ; and Pinocchio’s lies were “ as plain as the nose on his face ” are several examples. In the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit , the characters are warned not to laugh, but can’t help themselves and they “ die laughing. ”
Excerpt from Directing the Story: Professional Storytelling and Storyboarding Techniques for Live Action and Animation by Francis Glebas © 2008 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Directing the Story can be bought Amazon, BN.com, or your favorite online retailer.