A month to go before my Exciting Treatments workshop means that I can take things easy for a bit, and muse about odds and ends, such why a baby biting his brother’s finger is the most popular video on YouTube and how this can help writers find screenwriting success.

Finger biting for screenwriting success

Finger biting for screenwriting success

My good friend writer-director-producer Alan Denman sent me an article about this from the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s the thing – the clip’s called Charlie Bit My Finger – Again! It’s just a short clip of a baby biting his brother Harry on the finger.  Spoiler alert! Harry gets annoyed, then laughs. End of clip – 56 seconds in all. It’s no great art. It’s not even a great video clip.

And this clip has apparently been watched 335 million times!

I’ll repeat that – it’s not a typo – 335 million times. Why?

(My original question was slightly longer and contained a few deleted expletives).

A study by Jonah Berger at the University of Pennsylvania, quoted in the WSJ, analyses success on YouTube – and concludes that success bears no relation to intrinsic content or quality.

Your video can be as clever, relevant, meaningful, or well-written as you like. Nobody cares.

What people want is emotion.

To put it another way, when you watch Charlie Bit My Finger  – or any other film/video/programme – what turns you on is a sequence of strong feelings. You watch two people going through pain, laughter, friendship – here viewers get a whole spectrum in just 56 seconds. And they connect.

Emotional connection – it’s what’s bound people together since humans became humans, if not before.

Why am I saying this obvious thing?

Because this one simple trick is the one thing that 99% of screenwriters forget to do.

They write a thriller or a comedy or a romance and they’re so busy trying to keep all the rules, and get their story points in order, and explain what’s going on (all important in their own way) that they completely forget to do the one thing that will bring them screenwriting success.

Make us feel.

In a good script at least 95% of the scenes should be alight with one of the primary emotions of the film. (That leaves a just few moments of contrast and relief).

Let’s get practical.

The best, in fact the only, way to get people to have emotions is to have them yourself. But digging into your own emotions can be hard work.

However there are some advanced exercises to help you get into the emotional swing. The following exercises should be exciting and energising – for success you should dive in wholeheartedly – do them 100%.

1. Ask yourself what primary emotions you want your readers to feel? This shouldn’t be too difficult – if it’s a thriller then the main emotion is probably fear. A comedy – laughter. A romance – you want them to feel romantic.

2. Stepping out of the script for a moment, go back to a time when you felt that emotion of (say) fear, laughter or romance. Preferably in your life, or if not then in a movie or maybe you’ve heard of other people talk about their own memories.

Whichever, write the incident down as if it were a scene in a film. Make the event and the emotion as real as possible, and as strong.

Make a note of any elements in the scene that created those feelings. Was the context important?  Was there something in the way someone spoke, or acted? The weather? The location? Something you saw, or heard?

What details added extra emotional impact – large or small?

3. Now go back to your script and find a scene that has potential. What elements are creating the emotion you need and can they be added to? What would it feel like if you were really there – feeling fear, or laughter, etc? What might strengthen those feelings? Are there any distracting elements that could be cut?

4. Do that with another scene, and another. Until at least 95% of the scenes in your script are on fire with strong, honest, felt emotion.

Now, do you think that might help bring you a little screenwriting success?