September is scene-writing month at GITS

September 2nd, 2013 by

As noted in this post last week, I’ve dubbed September to be Scene-Writing Month. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a specific set of guidelines for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

Plus there’s this: If you are thinking about using the Go On Your Own Quest schedule to pound out a first draft of an original screenplay, FADE IN is fast approaching — October 21 to be precise. What better way to get your writing muscles moving than a series of scene-writing exercises.

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* I’m sure someone will post a way for you to write scenes and upload them so they maintain proper script format, but that isn’t a big deal to me. Rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

So your approach to scene format insofar as uploading them to comments here could be as simple as this:

GAS STATION/GROCERY SHEFFIELD

At an isolated dusty crossroad. It is twilight. The Ford sedan that Chigurh stopped is parked alongside 
the pump.

INSIDE

Chigurh stands at the counter across from the elderly proprietor. He holds up a bag of cashews.

CHIGURH: How much?

PROPRIETOR: Sixty-nine cent.

CHIGURH: This. And the gas.

PROPRIETOR: Y’all getting any rain up your way?

CHIGURH: What way would that be?

PROPRIETOR: I seen you was from Dallas.

Chigurh tears open the bag of cashews and pours a few into his hand.

CHIGURH: What business is it of yours where I’m from, friendo?

Here is a partial list of scene-writing prompts I am considering, some my own, other suggested by members of the GITS community:

* Write a scene that establishes a location.

* Write an action scene with no dialogue.

* Take a ‘talking heads’ scene and put it on its feet.

* Write a scene that builds toward a cliffhanger.

* Write a scene where a woman seduces a man only talking about baseball.

* Write a scene involving a gun.

* Write a scene using voiceover narration.

* Write a scene where information must be conveyed but no can/dares to speak.

* An ordinary scene utilizing an extraordinary location (a first date in space, grocery shopping in Hell…)

* Write a scene that creates a memorable character introduction.

* Write a breakfast scene where a wife has recently discovered her husband has been cheating on her.

If you have other suggestions, please feel free to post them in comments.

This is an opportunity to write 20 scenes in September of all types. I have no idea how it will turn out, but if people participate, it could be a great learning experience.

Finally, if you don’t feel comfortable uploading your scenes, that’s okay. I encourage you to do the exercise privately. Let’s face it: Any writing is better than no writing.

So come back every day at noon to see what the day’s prompt is, then go write a scene.

To learn more about Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Also The Black Board is joining in with National Sketch Writing Month, so if you’re a comedy writer and want to check that out, you can go here.

10 thoughts on “September is scene-writing month at GITS

  1. 14Shari says:

    Well, let’s try.

    INT. In house – kitchen – day

    A delicious breakfast has been served. Croissants, fresh juice, French bread, pastries, boiled eggs, bacon, milk, pancakes and fruit salad. Mary makes some fresh coffee. Robert, her dandy husband, walks in, looks surprised.

    Robert: did I forget something?

    Marie: — you tell me

    Robert: it’s not our anniversary, isn’t it?

    Marie: –no

    Robert: What’s to celebrate then?

    Marie: I called your office last night

    Robert: why would you do that?

    Marie: do I need a reason to speak to my husband

    Robert: I’m busy with the merger, you know that

    Marie: did you merge last evening?

    Robert: I can’t talk about business

    Marie: I’m not

    Robert: So, I did forget something. What is it? You finally passed your exam? The fifth time?

    Marie: right

    Robert: I thought you would never make it in this life time. Big girl (pats Mary on her shoulder)

    Marie: Big enough to go my own way

    1. Shari,

      it takes real stones to put your work in front of people like this, so at the very least you deserve some feedback.

      IMHO, this is really interesting. Lots of subtext (he’s having an affair; she knows about it; etc…).

      Most of your issues are just 1st draft issues, like tightening up dialogue, etc…

      If I had a criticism it’s that you need more actual description and detail for the core of the scene. The description of the breakfast itself is overkill, imho.

      Anyway, I hope you don’t mind but I had a go at rewriting this, just to show you what I mean. Just note that this is strictly my opinion and that all I’m trying to do is foster some ideas in your brain. There is no right/write way.

      ———————–

      INT. KITCHEN – MORNING

      Rustic, right out of Martha Stewart. Rolling suitcase stands to
      attention by the dishwasher.

      Breakfast fit for a prince is laid out on the kitchen table: fruit,
      pastries, etc… But only one place is set.

      Just as Mary places a French press on the table, Robert bounces in
      through the kitchen door, grinning like the smug asshole he is. His
      eyes widen in surprise as he surveys the scene before him.

      ROBERT: What’s the occasion? Don’t tell me I forgot our
      anniversary.

      He kisses his wife, but she squirms away like she doesn’t want him
      to touch her.

      ROBERT: What did I do now?

      Mary glares at Robert.

      MARY: I tried to call you last night.

      ROBERT: Why would you do that? You know we’ve been busy with the merger.

      MARY: I need a reason?

      Mary grabs an official looking envelope, flings it at Robert. It
      flies through the air like a shuriken, hits him square on his chest.

      She nods at him to open it. Beat as he reads the letter inside.

      ROBERT: (genuinely surprised) Huh… You passed… I never thought–

      MARY: –Spare me.

      ROBERT: Fifth time’s the charm?

      Mary’s impatience finally gets the best of her as she snatches the
      letter out of Robert’s hands, grabs the suitcase, makes her way out
      the door.

      ROBERT: Where are you going?

      MARY: Away from you.

      ROBERT: You need me. You’ll never make it on your own!

      Sly, gentle smile crosses Mary’s face.

      MARY: I’m already making it… Enjoy your breakfast.

      Mary strides out, slams the door behind her.

      1. Scott says:

        Thanks, pliny, for this. You make a good point: the need for a balance of dialogue and scene description. Unless you are Paddy Chayefsky’s grandchild, if you write a page with ONLY dialogue, a script reader will make this assessment: Amateur.

        Movies are primarily a visual medium. We have to keep this in mind all the time.

        That doesn’t mean we do busy work with scene description to break up lengthy exchanges of dialogue, but it does mean immersing ourselves in scenes to ‘see’ what can be going on in terms of action, especially in a talking heads scene like this.

        Thanks, pliny, for taking the time to take a whack at shari’s pages.

      2. 14Shari says:

        Pliny, thanks for the feedback and rewrite, much appreciated.

    2. Scott says:

      Shari, thanks for breaking the ice. As pliny notes, it takes courage to do this type of thing.

      Thinking of all the different ways someone would bust their mate for cheating, what you’ve done is go the OTHER direction, at least on the surface with the big spread for breakfast. My take on the subtext of that as far as Marie goes: Here is what you used to have and could have, so taste it one last time, because it’s all gone, and you wont’ be able to ‘taste’ it again.

      The breakfast also provides a BOB (Bit Of Business) to let the scene play out with subtext as opposed to Marie just hauling off and slamming Robert’s dome with a frying pan.

      So some good instincts here!

      1. 14Shari says:

        Scott, thanks for the feedback. These exercises really help me build my writing muscles.
        A journey of a thousand miles, a first draft, begins with a single step, a scene.

  2. Kalen says:

    Very excited about this. I was just thinking today that I should start writing some scenes for practice. I haven’t written any scripts yet, I like to start slow, so this should be an excellent opportunity to start out and get feedback from other writers. Great idea Scott!

  3. Shaula Evans says:

    I am so excited that you’re doing this, Scott! Thank you for the NaSkeWriMo plug, too–what great timing all around.

    Hurray for Shari for getting us off to a good start!

  4. Applying the principle of those who criticize must also show their work.

    Assuming the theme is murderers at a gas station, here goes.

    Please rip, spindle and mutilate as you see fit.

    ——–

    EXT. GAS STATION, LEE VINING, CA – DAY

    Nestled in the mountains, surrounded by snow capped hills, sky as
    clear and cold and blue as you’d expect at 6700 ft.

    Deborah and Grace drive up in a late model Black Mercedes
    convertible. Glide to a halt at a pump.

    Deborah gets out driver’s side, now dressed in tank top, cut-offs
    and cowgirl boots, looking like an elegantly slutty stripper and all
    designed to take attention away from her face.

    She swipes a credit card at the pump, but this being California, it
    asks for a zip code.

    Deborah leans into the car, hands the card back to Grace, who’s
    dressed almost the same. On her knees: brown leather personal
    organizer loaded to the gills with business card pockets holding
    credit cards and drivers licenses.

    DEBORAH: What’s the zip?

    With her index finger, Grace lowers her shades, puts the credit card
    back into place as she scans a driving license with the name, John
    Henry Calvin.

    GRACE: Nine, oh, oh, two, four.

    Deborah press the keypad… a few seconds, then it allows Deborah to
    start pumping gas. Which she does.

    DEBORAH: I’m going inside… you want anything?

    GRACE: I’m good.

    DEBORAH: You sure? It’s gonna take us at least a couple of hours to
    get to Reno.

    GRACE: Okay. Can you get me some water?… and some Gummy Bears?

    Grace ruffles to the back of the organizer where a pocket holds at
    least $2000 in used 20s.

    DEBORAH: I’ve got cash.

    Grace snaps organizer shut, throws it onto the back seat where it
    joins three siblings.

    GRACE: Do you want me to call the wife?

    DEBORAH: Good idea. I’ll be back in a minute.

    Deborah leans further in, casually gives Grace a nice long tender kiss,
    then strides towards the mart.

    Grace grabs a cell phone inside a gallon size freezer bag and a small
    dictaphone.

    Grace hits the speed dial on the phone, gets Helen Calvin’s voice mail.

    Grace presses play on the dictaphone and we hear some of John Calvin’s
    final words.

    CALVIN (O.S.): Hey honey, hope you don’t mind but we decided to
    drive up to Tahoe for the weekend. Why don’t you catch a plane and
    join us?… Miss you…

    1. Scott says:

      Strong scene. Clear beginning, middle, end. Lots of elements which prick our curiosity. Who are these two? Why do they have these apparently purloined organizers? And what in heaven’s name have they done with John Calvin, their scheme with Helen?

      Scenes can answer a reader’s questions. They can also RAISE questions, too, which is a great way to hook and sustain a reader’s attention.

      Good stuff!

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