Happy Wednesday, everyone, and welcome back to the blog.
Now, I am no Oscar Wilde or Phoebe Waller-Bridge (though I imagine a dinner party with either would be fantastic). However, I have researched the world wide web's depths to pull together some fun exercises that will enhance your writing technique.
I am aiming these exercises toward scriptwriters; however, they will hopefully be useful whatever your chosen medium. Let's begin!
So, How Did I Get Here?
This exercise plays on the old classic:
[insert random/implausible situation]"So, I know what you're thinking; how did I get to this point? Let's rewind…"
Take one of your characters (or a character from another piece of work if you want to practice with a story you already know) and have them walk into an unusual situation. Here are some prompts:
Your character walks into Costa, bleeding heavily; their clothes are torn and dirty; they look like they've been dragged through a hedge backwards (then forwards, then backwards again).
Your character ends up in detention almost entirely naked, if not for some artfully arranged foliage.
Your character is in the middle of a cornfield surrounded by fourteen bounding and excitable Labrador retrievers.
Your character strolls into the HR office soaking wet and covered in seaweed.
Now that they're in this state write a monologue that speaks directly to the audience (or another character) to tell them what happened. It can be as ridiculous and far-fetched as you like; long or short. Use your character's voice to build your story and try to let them lead - you can always edit later if it ends up a bit rambly.
Consider what elements of the story your character might focus on – would they orient it toward themselves or other people? Would they make pop-culture references, use slang and funny phrases? Where is your character from, how does their dialect inform their speech? Is your character level-headed or tempestuous? How old are they?
You can also build on this monologue once you have written it; it could become part of a larger scene in your work. You might want to split it into a couple of smaller speeches and insert alternate dialogue to create a conversation.
Jaws: The Musical
Otherwise known as Three Left Feet's next live production**. This exercise is one of multiple parts... because that's just the way we roll here at the 3LF HQ***.
First, pick a script or piece of literature. It can be something distinctive, something you enjoy, something that you don't like, for whatever reason. It should stand out to you in some fashion. Ensure that you have a copy of this work on hand - the TV show's spec script, a copy of the book or play etc.
Next, pick a genre - one that's DIFFERENT from your chosen work. You can be broad (e.g. action, sci-fi, western) or more specific (regency romance, slasher horror, magical realism). Read up on that genre. Choose plays, books, TV shows, films, an interpretative dance, anything you can get your hands on that sounds interesting.
Try to identify certain characters, settings, motifs, and tropes that reoccur in this genre. For example, horror loves to use abandoned hospitals or extremely rural settings (often in Southern America) to emphasise characters' isolation. Make a list of any traits you identify and mark the ones that particularly spark your curiosity.
The final part of the exercise asks you to experiment with writers' work. I'm going to slip a short but important note here, stating that plagiarism (stealing other people's work) is illegal, immoral, and a super shoddy thing to do. So, let's just use this exercise for fun and personal practice, eh?
Take an excerpt of your chosen work and apply the features you identified from your selected genre. Did you pick The Importance of Being Earnest or Twelfth Night? I wonder how they'll function as Detective Noir pieces. Adapt your work to your chosen genre, considering how you might blend its original style with these new genre-specific characteristics.
Note: if you did want this exercise to lead toward a professional adaptation, consider choosing stories available in the public domain. For example, our old pal Shakespeare's work, and that of authors like Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen, and Lewis Carroll, are copyright free. (I, for one, would love to see a gritty, fully-fledged, murder-mystery Hamlet – but that's just me.)
Seven Deadly Sins
Whoa, another multiple-part exercise? It must be a Wednesday.
First, I'd like you to think about the seven deadly sins. These devilish depravities are:
Pride - "a high, esp. an excessively high, opinion of one's own worth or importance which gives rise to a feeling or attitude of superiority over others; inordinate self-esteem" (OED, 2020)
Sloth - "physical or mental inactivity; disinclination to action, exertion, or labour; sluggishness, idleness, indolence, laziness" (OED, 2021)
Wrath - "vehement or violent anger; intense exasperation or resentment; deep indignation" (OED, 2020)
Lust - "pleasure, delight" (OED, 2020)
Greed - "inordinate or insatiate longing, esp. for wealth" (OED, 2020)
Gluttony - "the vice of excessive eating" (OED, 2021)
Envy - "malignant or hostile feeling; ill-will, malice" / "a longing for the advantages enjoyed by another person" (OED, 2020)
I would like you to detail them as characters in a script.
Think about how you can aptly express their personality to the actor without merely describing them as 'lustful' or 'angry'. Don't mention their physical appearance (unless there's something particularly prevalent to their identity, e.g. Captain Hook's hook). Try to make them as distinctive and different as possible from one another. Here's an example:
Envy (aged 15) - the middle child; third in "we'll be a three" group projects; always walks behind their friends on the pavement.
Wrath (aged 63) – soon-to-be-retired P.E. teacher; likes dodgeball, not kids.
Now that you have your sins stick them in a bottle. Not literally (unless you especially want to, hey, I don't own your life). In TV, a bottle episode consists of (mostly) primary cast members; it minimises sets and special effects (usually set in one location) and focuses on dialogue. These episodes are much cheaper to make than others, and they also offer an excellent opportunity to explore characters, motivations, and relationships.
So, pop your sins in an enclosed space or somewhere they can't easily leave:
a raft in the middle of the pacific
the men's toilets at the zoo (after the lions have broken out their enclosure)
a family Christmas dinner
the locked-up school library, after hours
the 4.5th circle of hell (or Primark, on a Saturday, as it's otherwise known)
Consider how they will react to one another in this situation? Which personalities will clash? Will certain alliances form? How can you express their individual vice within this bottle's confines? Keep their specific traits in mind so that you can inform their dialogue and ensure that it is distinctive and engaging.
That's it for today! If you complete any of the exercises above, please feel free to send us your work via social media - @threeleftfeetuk - we'd love to see it!
*Does Captain America work for Three Left Feet? We can neither confirm nor deny.
**Not strictly true… yet. I'll wear them down; watch this space.
***It's a very mystical place – like Hogwarts but with more show tunes. We have a community of 14 trolls living under the drawbridge who know all the words to Six the Musical.