Writing For An Audience’s Subconscious

The techniques a writer uses that grip an audience and move them emotionally in multiple directions, often simultaneously, are what David S. Freeman calls “Emotioneering”® Techniques.

These techniques address the audience’s subconscious. Because of this, they are a challenge to consciously isolate.

Also, because these techniques are the reason people get caught up in a character, a scene, or a plot, it’s hard to pull back and examine them objectively.

Let’s look at the Emotioneering techniques used in two related scenes  from “Lord Of The Ring: Return of the King.” The first scene is with Frodo and Sam on a large boulder. Frodo has just destroyed the ring, and with it Sauron and Mount Doom.

This transitions to a scene where Frodo recovers in the Elven town of Minas Tirith.

After looking at the scenes, you can read the deconstruction that follows and you’ll know exactly why these scenes are so emotionally powerful.


I find it helpful, when speaking about film and television scripts, to divide them into five elements:

  • Characters
  • Relationships
  • Dialogue
  • Scenes
  • Plots

There are techniques to make each of these five elements unique and interesting (“Interesting Techniques”) and techniques to make each of these elements have emotional depth (“Deepening Techniques”).

Depth means:

  • Emotionally complex
  • Psychologically complex
  • Layered
  • Rich

This scene from “Return of the King” uses quite a few such techniques. Here are some of the techniques used in these pair of linked scenes:

(Techniques to cause an audience to like or identify with a character)

For both Frodo and Sam:

  • They are heroic.
  • They have performed self-sacrifice for the greater good.
  • They are in danger.
  • They are loyal to each other.
  • They experience pain and sorrow–for what they’ve gone through, and for their impending deaths.


  • Sam has an unfulfilled dream–of marrying Rosie.
  • They both have pain and sorrow. (This causes not just empathy but depth as well.)
  • Frodo and Sam simultaneously feel different things about different subjects: they’re glad they conquered Sauron; they’re sad they’re going to die.
  • At the end, in Minas Tirith, they’re “alone in a crowd“–despite the joy around them, their history of struggle and torment sets them apart from others in the room.


  • There is a contrast between the stillness on the rock and the violence of the lava below.
  • (At the end): “One Scene, Two Universes“: Frodo and Sam are (figuratively) in one universe, and all their joyful companions are in another.


  • Desolation Row“: The characters face the very worst possible situation. In this case, it’s their impending deaths.
  • Symbol of a Concept: Fire. There are four ways to use symbols in scripts. “Symbol of a concept” is one of them. Throughout the film, fire is a symbol of Sauron. Other symbols of Sauron are machinery and darkness. “Symbol of a Concept” is a type of symbol that runs through an entire plot. It gives emotional depth to the plot –– and thus is a Plot Deepening Technique.
  • The end of the fire plotline. Evil has been destroyed, so the mountain (the world) empties itself of the last signs of evil (fire).
  • Symbol of a Concept: White. In the “Lord of the Rings” films, white, trees, and water are symbols of good.


You wouldn’t try to use all these techniques as you write –– if you did, your head would explode. No one can keep them all in mind as they create.

There are some techniques that you do use as you write your first draft. However, most of those described in this article are more effectively used when you rewrite. They take a lot of thought to apply artfully, and you need to make aesthetic choices in order to use them in combination to create the complex emotions you intend to evoke.

Happy emotioneering.


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