February 7, 2007
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I’m taking a two-weekend class on “Tension, Conflict, and the Unknown,” and one of the writing exercises we did during Saturday’s 10-4 session (which was more like five hours ’til you count getting-started time, 45 minutes for lunch, and a twenty-minute break) was to write a scene between two people who wanted different things, in a specific environment that would intrude on their scene.
It was a very helpful exercise, and it clicked with a piece of advice I got from our last screenwriters workshop, which was that you never write a full page of screenplay with only dialogue. There’s always something going on, some direction, some way the actors interact with the set. It gives the scene texture and depth. The same applies in prose writing: you don’t just want a pair of talking heads. They should be in a setting that complements their scene.
The scene I chose was a library, where two college students were doing research for a history report. One wanted to talk about something they’d done (presumably a date), while the other didn’t want to talk about it at all. The setting of the library worked in favor of the one who didn’t want to talk about it, of course, as it’s a quiet venue. Imagine how much harder it would be to resist talking to someone at an outdoor fair, where everything is loud and noisy.
Now as I’m going back through the works I’m editing now, I’m hyper-conscious of the setting for each one of my scenes. How does the main character (and others) interact with his/her surroundings? Could the scene be set in a better place? What aspects of the setting intrude on the scene? If they’re in a restaurant, use the waiter, the food, the nearby couples–bring them all in as they pertain to the discussion the characters are having.
Yet another thing to remember and think about while writing. This feels more like something you would highlight for a second or third draft–not something you necessarily worry about when getting your first draft down on paper. Still, it’s important, and you really improve your scenes by thinking about it. Go on. Try it.