Screenwriting : Showing character turmoil through action by David G Haddon

David G Haddon

Showing character turmoil through action

I am working on a scene and after the character accidentally hurts a loved one...

"He visibly cringes in fear and anger at what he just did."

Does this work? Too much? Too little?

Claude Gagne

Don't forget to say he's sorry! Sounds good to me.

Craig D Griffiths

You’ll know when it moves from paper to performance.

Is it consistent with how the character has reacted previously?

Doug Nelson

It needs to be put in context before anyone can answer your question. What happens in the prior scene, what's the button, is there a transition, what happens in the scene following?

Bobby Peterson

I’d maybe remove the word visibly before cringes, because it’s already implied that we can see the character’s action if it’s written. Does the character have dialogue at the moment of turmoil? If so, and if you want to simplify it, you could put cringing in a parenthetical under the character's name. Sounds like a considerably important scene, so describing the significant reaction or emotional impact of that situation definitely doesn’t hurt.

John Ellis

Better line: "He cringes."

David G Haddon

For context, the character just accidentally broke a friend's arm. He is afraid of hurting people and he just accidentally did what he fears the most.

Dan Guardino

Like John suggested because you should only write the physical manifestation of their emotions that we can see on film.

Bill Costantini

Hi David,

Breaking someone's arm accidentally is quite traumatic and dramatic. That one line should just be a part of a series of lines - at least to me. And maybe it is in your script. But the very least he should "cringe."

As a writer I'd want to make that whole event and the aftermath as visual and dramatic as I could. What we see, the non-dialogue sounds that we hear...the lead-up, the event itself, the aftermath....that could be a really stunning piece of writing, other than just the "he cringes" part.

I'd imagine you've already done that. You should look up the end scene in GRIFTERS, when Lilly accidentally kills her son Roy. It's only a few paragraphs, but man...Donald E. Westlake's narration is beautiful poetry. The lines of her reaction are interspersed with descriptions of something else that she is doing, but the lines that describe her reaction to the accident (like the rest) are something special.

Best fortunes in your creative endeavors, David - stay safe and Happy Holidays!

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