Writing Scenes That don’t Exist
So after I wrote my last blog on Christine Conradt’s GLAWS presentation, I thought I’d check out her two articles in the two “Now Write” books. In, “Now Write! Screenwriting” she has an exercise called “The Scene That Doesn’t Exist”. It is an exercise to help overcome writer’s block. Basically, you take your two main characters and just put them in a scene you know won’t be in your screenplay. She uses the example of a pizza parlor. Then just see what happens, what they talk about, etc. The idea is to get to know your characters better. Sometimes they surprise you.
The thing is I often do this inadvertently. I’m a nonlinear writer. I jump around from scene to scene. If I get stuck on one scene, I’ll jump to another scene further down the road. When I started on my current steampunk script, I started at the beginning. But there was a chase scene on a moving train that I really wanted to write. So I wrote it, then I went back and built up to it. I have a friend and fellow writer, Kristen Roach Harris ( Fireplace Girl on Krypton Radio’s “The Corsair’s Closet”) who cannot wrap her head around this style of writing. She is a romance writer and she has to write from start to finish. I have only ever written one script like that.
Actually, I had a professor at USC Cinema/Television who had us write the first twenty pages of our scripts first, then the last twenty pages. Those are usually the easiest to write. Most people know how their story is going to start and they know what the climactic scene is going to be. It’s the stuff in the middle that gets hard. At USC they would have us outline our stories, use index cards and other devices like that. That never worked for me. Now I think about a story I want to write – maybe for a couple of months. I imagine scenes I want and develop characters and conflicts. Then, when I have about 80% plotted out, I start writing.
But sometimes you do end up with a scene that will never be in the final script. I wrote a scene where one of my protagonist’s brothers fancies my protagonist’s best friend. He thinks no one has noticed, but everyone knows. And when it comes out, he is embarrassed and tries to deny it. I liked the scene because I wrote it with a very Monty Pythonish flavor. But as I developed the story, I changed their relationship. They fancy each other and everyone knows it. No big deal. So that scene can never be in the script.
So was that a waste of time? No, I don’t think so. It helped me develop his character and gave me practice in a particular style of comedy writing, a style which I intend to use with my protagonist’s love interest in the second part of the steampunk trilogy. He is the straight-laced business type who’s brain flies out the window when he sees her. This style of comedy is better suited for his character. In the end, it’s all practicing your art.
How do you practice your art?
On a side note, in “Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror”, Christine Conradt has a chapter on The Eleven Tenets of Fear. But what caught my attention was the very first chapter of the book, “Where Does He Got Those Wonderful Ideas? Making Speculative Fiction Speculative”. Finally, about thirty five years later, my offence to that horribly titled film strip, “Where the Weird Ideas Cone From” is vindicated.