How to give your screenplay emotional intelligence

“Chasing the Monster Idea” is a book by Stefan Mumaw in which he identifies seven questions that will help you determine whether you have a “monster” idea rather than just a good one (or a bad one).

These questions also can help you figure out whether your movie idea is a monster.

The first one: Does it evoke an emotional response?

People go to movies not just to see something, but to feel something. Horror fans want to feel fear, thriller fans want to feel suspense, comedy fans want to feel amusement, and so on. It’s obvious, but not every movie or every script makes that happen. There are three main reasons some fail:

1) We don’t identify with the protagonist. Especially in horror, thriller and drama we experience the feelings vicariously via the protagonist. She’s scared and we’re scared. The more your script has done to help us understand and identify with her, the stronger our feelings.

2) We don’t believe the situation.Sometimes we feel these things because we know more than the protagonist–we know the killer is hiding in the closet, she doesn’t. In comedies we are just as likely to be laughing at the protagonist as with him. But if the situation you have set up obviously is fake, then we may not buy into it and we don’t feel what you want us to feel.

3) We feel used up. If there’s not enough emotional variation–for instance, in a horror film if the horror is unrelenting–we may feel emotional fatigue and stop responding. That’s why the films of Hitchcock, for instance, are so good: he gives us moment of suspense interspersed with moments of comic relief, high drama mixed with low drama (a guy named Shakespeare understood this, too).

If your screenplay allows for these factors, it will have the emotional intelligence to give viewers the experience they crave.

Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see


  1. Asabi says

    Real gem. Every word a benefit. Thanks Jurgen. One can’t miss the wealth of experience oozing from every sentence. Look forward to reading more from you.

    I am budding screenwriter, on my second work, even though am writing it for me at the moment, am hoping it goes places eventually. Going to start taking your advices to heart as I write.


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