Friday, August 31, 2007

Seriously, Though...


Sometimes, I'll have a student who's trying just a wee bit too hard to come up with something funny. As a result, they usually bring in nothing or something painfully forced. "Gotta be funny" is a tough thing for ideas to measure up to. It usually means many perfectly decent ideas are discarded before they have been adequately considered.

For this student, I usually assign The Serious Scene. Or The Straight Scene. The word "serious" can be misconstrued to mean the scene needs to be full of pain and pathos, which is not the case. It simply means to seriously deal with the story of a scene without any need to funny it up.

A good resource for this kind of scene is your own life. I recommend generating a list of pivotal moments or events, positive and/or negative.

Here's one that's a mish-mash of ones I have heard over the years...

1) parents divorce
2) coming out
3) buying a house
4) having a child
5) learning mother had a terminal illness
6) going to my first funeral
7) getting a divorce
8) proposing marriage
9) going to college
10) flunking the fourth grade

Again, this is from several different people over the years. I have personally only experienced 40% of what's on the list. Your list should be from your own life experience and, since you're not posting it on the Internet, be truthful and try to cover a wide variety.

As you can see, some of these things denote a moment while others may be a series of events. In both cases, it's good to do a second list that explores the elements more deeply. For this one, I will use one of my own experiences. Parents getting a divorce. It's a list of the first ten things I associate with that event.

1) Mom sitting me down to tell me
2) sitting alone in the empty house we moved out of with my dog that I had to give away
3) telling my girlfriend my parents were getting a divorce
4) delaying going to college to stay with my mom
5) meeting my dad and his new wife a year and a half later
6) eating liver and onions, a lot
7) asking my girlfriend at the time to marry me
8) talking to my mom's therapist about the divorce
9) my mom getting screwed over in court
10) moving from a big house to a small apartment

Doing this exercise might bring up some tender emotions. That's okay. In fact, it's useful. It will help you be honest when writing out the scene. Again, there are items on the list that can be easily developed into a scene. "Talking to my mom's therapist" or "Mom sitting me down to tell me" could almost be written as I remember them. Some items don't seem to have much stage potential, such as "eating liver and onions, a lot" and "sitting alone in the empty house we moved out of with my dog I had to give up." But both are interesting details and might be used as a part of the scene or a reference in the scene. Other items are still too broad, like "moving from a big house to a small apartment." I would probably have to do another list breaking it down to a specific moment, such as physically moving boxes in or unpacking.

If you have to combine a few different elements, that's okay. I might put "telling my girlfriend my parents were getting a divorce" in the same scene as "asking my girlfriend at the time to marry me," even though they took place at different times in different locations. What's important is that I stay honest to the spirit of the characters, emotions and situations. And there will be humor - me asking my girlfriend to marry me with her in her McDonald's uniform smelling like french fries and me in my bathrobe is going to be funny - but the humor will be organic to the scene.

Resist falsely heightening the scene to try to make it more interesting. You might not think it's that interesting because it happened to you. Others might be captivated by it on its own because characters being honest and telling their truth is interesting.

So that's the assignment. Write a "serious" scene.


Thea Lux joins Don Hall, Dave Awl, Nat Topping and myself as a featured blogger at The Nod September 19th at the Uptown Writers Space. Thea is a writer, musician, artist, actor, improviser, director and just one of the funniest and most creative persons I know. She's currently in a few shows at The Annoyance and you can look up her band, Let's Get Out Of This Terrible Sandwich Shop , on iTunes. Check out her website by clicking HERE. You can check out a sampling of all our works HERE.


Yesterday, I asked...

"An elementary school in Colorado Springs has recently banned what from its playground?"

12% answered "Nuclear Weapons"
- No. That was an isolated incident and they don't want to make a big deal about it.

13% said "iPods"
- No, but they probably should, if only because the teachers probably can't afford them and it just rubs that humiliation in their faces.

No one thought it was "Unauthorized Cootie Shots"
- No, but they are cheaper if you buy them in Canada.

The correct answer, that 75% got it, is "Tag"

According to the Associated Press and assistant principal of the Discovery Canyon Campus school, Cindy Fesgen, the elementary school banned tag on its playground because "It causes a lot of conflict on the playground." I totally see their point on this. Schools should ban everything that has any element of competition to it or may, in any way, prepare the student to the harsh realities of life.

I've heard they are also considering banning "Duck, Duck, Goose" because of how maligned it makes geese feel. Some other games are still allowed, but with stipulations. "Red Light, Green Light" is now just called "Yellow Light" and must be played with caution. "Musical Chairs" can only be played with a one chair per student ratio.