Purveyor. Not of goods, but of good ideas

Saturday, January 21, 2006

ARTS: How to Write a Script

About three years ago, I coauthored a book about directing. Every once in a while, people looking for guidance and advice seek me out on the Internet. When and if I have the time, I try to be helpful.

I recently received a note from a young student who was stuck on an assignment:

I'm supposed to write a script but I can't think of anything at all. The characters have to be two people doing something, like action. Do you understand what I mean?

Here was my answer:
Sure. I understand.

There's a very important lesson that can help you come up with something to write about: Every scene is a chase scene. One person wants something from the other person, and the other one doesn't want to give it. If he did, the scene would be over. So write a script with two people. One person wants something. The other person resists, or puts up obstacles.

Here's an exercise. I'll describe, in just one word, the first of who those two people in your script might be. Based on who that first person is, you should, if you use your imagination, be able to come up with 1) what they probably want and 2) what another person might do to try to prevent them from getting it. For example, if I say Teacher, a teacher would probably want a student to learn. But the Student might resist for any number of reasons. The Teacher is chasing the Student. And that suggests dialog, or a script...

Teacher: This assignment is due on Thursday.

Student: I'm going to be out sick on Thursday.

Teacher: How can you know that in advance?

Student: I know because assignments make me sick.

And so on. The Teacher will keep chasing. He or she will try charm, force, diplomacy, bribery...all sorts of things to get the Student to do the assignment. And the Student will keep avoiding. Or the Teacher might give up and the Student will start a new chase in reverse because he or she wants the attention. That's a scene. It ends when the chase ends.

So here's the list:

Coach
Wife
Sister
Judge
Slave
Taxi passenger
Stewardess/Flight attendant
Babysitter
Zookeeper

For each one, you should be able to come up with what that person might want, the type of person or crowd they might be interacting with, and the kind of resistance that second person or group might apply to what the first person wants. Pick the combination that amuses you most, and write your script around that.


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