To quickly write a scene, it helps to sketch out your beginning, middle and end a little beforehand, otherwise you run the risk of wandering and making the piece weak in terms of tension. But first lets define a scene. A scene is the change that occurs through a single event in one place and time . That change can be in the situation, i.e. a new event occurs in the action or a change in the relationship between people in the scene. The change in the relationship may be from the tension being raised as a result of increased conflict i.e. one person wants something and other won’t or can’t give it. The single most important element in a scene is what people want. Give a desire to one or both characters and prevent them from getting it. Hey, I don’t see this in every scene – you say. What is in every scene is change of some sort. If conflict doesn’t build from scene to scene, the play will wilt.
1) Put a change into your scene as a result of something that happens in it.
E.g. New information arises out conflict causing a character to pursue their goal in a different way.
2) Give one character a desire for something and let the other character not give it.
e.g. Boy wants to break up with girl. Girl tries to stop him. Nothing works. She then tells him she’s pregnant. Boy reveals that he is dying. Girl is not really pregnant – but now has to pretend that she is.
In this scene you can see clearly who wants what and the change that occurs in the scene. The girl has made a trap for herself and has to pretend to her boyfriend that she is pregnant as it is the only hope the boy has.
Sketching out a scene
To sketch it out, ask yourself some questions, write them down. Don’t answer them in order or get academic, its more like daydreaming, probing questions. Run through places, people and situations that you recently thought about, saw on TV, hate, love, fantasize – anything at all that stuck to your imagination in some way. Write stuff down, scratch it out, put the first thing that pops into your head down then revise it. Spend about 2-3 minutes doing this. Did you have an argument with someone recently? Read a book that sparked your imagination, put your observations into the scene. Don’t be boring! Make the characters be opposed strongly – even if they are polite and soft spoken on stage, they should be burning up inside somewhere.
Brainstorm with these questions – whatever you come up with is good because it is material, free yourself from judgement. Have fun, take it places that surprise yourself.
1. Where are you? Where’s the scene happenning? In a room? What room? Outside? What’s the weather like?
2. Who is in the scene?
3. Give one of the characters a concrete goal that matters to them. i.e. They know what it is, we know it and know when they get it or not. Importantly, if they don’t get it, there is severe consequence.
4. Have the other character oppose it with equal or greater strength.
The opposition should be strong. Imagine you are up a tree and there’s a bear below who wants to eat you. How are you going to get away safely? That’s how difficult the opposite character should be in reaching your goal. Avoid speaking to these things directly, otherwise known as speaking the subtext. e.g. A: Can I have a Milky moo? B: No
This scene has conflict but no tension. Let’s up the ante
A: Are those Milky Moos? B: Did you call your mother about the loan?
5. Give one or both characters a past that directly affects the scene/play. This is called the Ghost, because it affects their ability to accomplish what they need in this scene. E.g. Man rearends a woman in traffic at night in the country, She is fine but her child is badly shaken and arm appears to have a small fracture. She quickly splints it. She goes back to man who is bleeding badly but conscious. She takes her phone out to call 112 but then smells alcohol on his breath. Her husband was killed by a drunk driver two years ago. He begs her for help. He even looks like the guy who got away with murder. She doesn’t make the call and goes back to her car and attends to her daughter. The man is bleeding to death behind her, calling out. She is there for five minutes and the man has stopped calling out. Then something flashes through her mind, something she saw in the car; a needle. The alcohol smell could be diabetes. She rushes back to the man etc.
6. Now write your scene, get the characters striving for the goals and put up blocks against them. You don’t have to know how your main character gets what they want but it should come out of having tried everything else first and now has to get out of their comfort zone and do something that surprises themselves.
Establishing time, place and people.
In one excercise, we took a postcard and used that to establish the environment. If you are sitting at your desk thinking something up, run through places that you recently thought about, saw on TV, hate, love, fantasize – anyplace at all that stuck to your imagination in some way. Anything compelling or exciting or fascinates you.
For people, think about people who are inscrutable but active. i.e. They can be provoked and will follow a course of action, but are discovering things along the way about themselves. Yourself is as good as anyone, but perhaps notions of people, people who popped into your imagination.
Daydream with these questions. That will make it less like an academic excercise. Watch people around you and frame what you see in dramatic terms. Who wants what? Why can’t they get it?