Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Listen to Your Scene

Currently, I am teaching an outstanding Writing I class on Tuesday nights at Second City. Last night, the in-coming assignment was a Moral Dilemma scene. A Moral Dilemma scene is where you paint your main character into a corner where in order to get what they want, they'll have to do something immoral like lie, cheat or steal. The classic example is finding a wallet full of money. Do you try to find the owner or pocket the money? Now, that in and of itself, is not such an interesting situation. However, if your main character is about to be evicted and has been reduced to eating free condiments out of foil packets for sustenance, then it gets a little better. If he knows the wallet was dropped by a little old man on his way to the pharmacy or the bank and it's someone he knows, then things perk up a bit. If the money is a substantial amount, enough to cover his debts and a little extra, we also raise the stakes. There may be another angle of adding that the main character is in Jesuit school or something, but that may be one thing too many. It's a good exercise for practicing heightening your scenes and seeing how much you can believably build the dilemma and while having the audience be able to relate to it.

What was interesting last night is how many scenes demonstrated the need for the writer to listen. On a very literal level, I mean actually read your scene out loud and listen to it. By doing that, you are likely to catch anything from syntax errors to repetitiveness to phrases that just don't roll off the tongue very well. On an internal level, listen to your characters and the scene itself. What are the characters trying to tell you? What do they want? What does the scene want? Sometimes a scene wants to go in a direction different from where the writer is taking it. Usually it's buried in an aside or shown through another character whose more interesting than the main character. In one scene last night, there was a character who lied about romantically seeing the bosses daughter - the bosses fifteen year old daughter, he finds out - to deflect attention from what he was really hiding. His lie, in my opinion, was more interesting than the truth and very scene worthy.

Listen to your scenes!


Yesterday, I asked...

"Pastor Roger Byrd of the Jonesville Church of God is stirring controversy since he posted which message on the sign of his church?"

50% said "God hates fags, women and Muslims"
- I think God hates God and has self-esteem issues.
9% said "Hillary, Bill, do they both wear the pants in the family?"
- Clearly, they both do. But underneath, Bill wears boxers and Hillary wears a strap-on.
9% said "John McCain and George Bush have kissed. Gay?"
- Gay for war. They love war so much, why don't they marry it?
27% got it right with "Obama, Osama, humm, are they brothers?"

According to WYFF Channel 4, Pastor Roger Byrd of Jonesville, S.C, said that he just wanted to get people thinking. So last Thursday, he put a new message on the sign at the Jonesville Church of God. It reads: "Obama, Osama, humm, are they brothers?"Byrd said that the message wasn't meant to be racial or political.

Not racial or political? Then what is it? An ice-breaker? Forget that he's a Christian church leader trying to link a presidential candidate to a notorious terrorist. Let's just look at his logic. Because of a one consonant difference, there's a possibility Obama and Osama are brothers? First off, Obama is his last name. Osama is the other guy's first name. Hmm, I wonder if Julia Roberts and Robert Deniro are brother and sister? Unless one was named Osama Obama or the other Barack Bin-Laden, then I am pretty sure they are not brothers.

I wonder if Roger Byrd is any relation to Jolly Roger? Doesn't matter any more. He took the sign down yesterday due to the national outcry over his stupidity.


GW said...

As a writer, I'm not only offended by the flawed premise, but by the gross misspelling of the word "Hmm". Hasn't consensus been reached on the proper spelling of that word?

Unknown said...

Perhaps Pastor Roger Byrd was actually literally humming instead of trying (and failing) to sound like a reasonably intelligent person.

tickboy said...

re: Needs A Job
(to paraphrase the old joke)
What, and give up show business!

John Durbin