Thursday, September 30, 2010

Scene Building: Been There Done That -- Or Have I?

On Monday morning, the assignment in my intro theatre class was announced to the reception of groans and pained expressions. We were to write a "missing" scene to Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. 5 to 8 pages or so and due on Friday. Not everyone was groaning, however. On hearing this task, I perked up as quickly as the dog in the movie UP! who heard, "Squirel!" I thought, how fun! I loved this play! Instantly, I know the perfect "missing" scene. I can hardly wait to start.

I cannot not start now, however. It's Monday morning at 10 a.m. and I have classes until 5 p.m. Darn it anyway. So, seconds later, still in the class and hearing the details of this assignment, I 'm starting to worry. More than worry. I nearly panic. Oh, no. There goes my week. I know what writing can be like, you see. From my novel writing experience, I've known the act of creation has meant time. It's meant hours of agonizing over sentences and the obsession with getting it right to the exclusion of, well, everything else. It's meant having to force myself to stop and start. So far, in fact, in my return to college, I've deliberately avoided creative writing classes. I've tried to, anyway. I've had a couple of classes requiring journals, and they did indeed almost put me over the edge into creative oblivion. This assignment could be dangerous territory.

"Don't worry," the professor says to the class. I try stop my inner monologue and pay attention. "I'm not expecting you to be a playwright or Arthur Miller. This is merely an exercise."

An exercise? What in the world is that? I'm mystified. Does he mean, not perfect? My scene in my head is already building, the ideas bursting at the seams. Then he begins to give pointers on what this scene should have. The advice is familiar (to a writer), and I almost have a (excuse how this sounds) "been there done that" tuning out response, like a cook would have if he/she had to sit through a demonstration on how to boil water. But the wording is slightly different. He describes the vital components of the scene as:

1. Compression
2. Intensity
3. Economy

I pay attention, interested in the new spin on basics:

Compression is the sense of urgency. It's driven by adding characters who are in conflict with other characters. An example from The Crucible is the opening scene of one small room being filled to the brim with other characters. The character, Reverend Paris, literally has no room to think and is pressed into actions. Compression also has a time constraint, circumstances that limit the outcome, and escalation.

Intensity is the consequences. Ask, what is at stake for each character? In The Crucible, the stakes are high; soul, honor, life.

Economy is balancing the resources given to something against the profit returned.

I'm not sure if I already had an instinctive idea of these elements for my envisioned scene, but they certainly are helpful as a "checklist" of sorts. With this, we were sent off and advised that class on Wednesday would be a "working session."

I'll tell you how that went...and how the "worries" of writing my scene played out in the next blog. (Now, off to the dentist. Writing and life interrupted. LOL)

Do you ever hear the "basics" in a different way that strikes a chord?

5 comments:

  1. Melissa, that's why I love to read blogs about writing advice, even though I tell myself I can't keep doing that as often as I do. LOL But I find that sometimes things just "click" for me, all because someone has described a topic in a completely different way than I've seen before.

    Okay, I'm going off to rewrite my opening scene again, to see if I can't compress it a bit more (which was what I was doing when I came here for a little break!) Perfect timing.

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  2. Donna, I took a lot away from this play writing assignment that will help in my novel writing. Lots of specifics of a dramatic scene I hadn't looked at quite the same way. To give away my next blog (or not if I don't get to it) I'm now tempted to write a play because it went so fast. Now whether I can do this without a "missing scene" (reminds me of writing fan fiction I've heard of others do but haven't myself) is another matter! LOL It was a lot of fun though. Writing should be fun, right?! LOL

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  3. Yes, writing SHOULD be fun -- LOL -- but today it's giving me a headache! I always thought I'd like to try a play, because I love dialogue, and there's not as much need for description. :) I'd love to hear how it works for you.

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  4. I hope you will post your scene when you get it done. I'd love to see what you come up with!

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  5. Hey Maureen! I might do that. :) It's done and I had a lot of fun with that scene. I haven't received it back yet for a grade -- not that I'll probaby get much feedback since it was just an "exercise." It's funny how as writers we get used to critiques and a "good" really doesn't satisfy our need to know more! LOL

    I've been swamped studying for an upcoming chemistry test and wondering what the heck I got myself into. Eeek! Hope to blog again soon with writing related stuff! Oh, and btw, I keep trying to post on your blog, but Typepad seems to have it in for me! LOL Congrats again on your exciting news with your book!

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