Writing Good Bad News

On episode 294 of Scriptnotes, John and Craig briefly go in depth of the ways a character reacts to receiving bad news in film.

They examine several examples of how characters react to receiving bad or overwhelming news in a film like: starring a phone after hearing the news, coming home and pressing up against a wall and letting out a heavy sigh, covering their mouth when hearing or seeing something bad, and splashing their face to change their emotional state. They talk about how these examples have become movie tropes and mostly only occur in movies. To write around these conventions to make a characters reaction more authentic and effective they use the example of Florida from the sitcom Good Times reacting to her husband dying. She receives the news and rather than instantly reacting she holds it in then suddenly when you think she is okay she breaks emotionally. They describe this example as being more realistic and effective and shows as a stronger performance. They talk about trying to pull back and make a characters reaction more subtle and reflect on how one would act in real life and have that approach when writing that for the character and their given circumstance.

These conventions are an example of many that are somehow carried over from generations of film and being a new writer it can be easy to fall into tropes based on what your influences are and what you commonly see. I think it is important to analyze film conventions like these and break them to make more effective stories that in turn make you a stronger writer.


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