Monday, June 4, 2007

Assignments Week Two (Super Scene Writing Formula)

This week, as promised, I will teach you my SUPER SCENE WRITING FORMULA. This is something I use myself and have been teaching my students for years. It works every time.

This exercise takes about 45 minutes, however, you can adjust the timed writings to meet your needs. I have also listed an alternate exercise at the bottom in case you either have more or less time one day or simply want to try something new after doing this exercise a few times.

DD’s Super Scene Writing Formula (SSWF)

STEP ONE - Timed Warm-Ups (22 minutes)

a) You may begin with any start line you'd like (This is a story about... My protagonist's interior need is... my antagonist enters the story when...). I will suggest alternative start lines each week to keep you on your toes.

The one I use most often for this exercise is The scene that needs to be written is...

To begin, set your timer for FIVE MINUTES and use my "wind up" approach from Week One. Repeat the phrase at the beginning of each short sentence (like a list) until a scene jump starts your muse. Then dive in and spontaneously riff from there. Keep that pen moving the whole time, if you fumble and stall, write The scene that needs to be written is... and keep going)

For EXAMPLE, I used the SSWF while working on my script The New Mrs. Polly Dearborne. Here's a sample of how one of the exercises began:

The scene that needs to be written is the scene where Polly wins the contest. The scene that needs to be written is the scene where Polly decides to quit her job. The scene that needs to be written is when Polly goes to the shoestore the first time she comes back from from N.Y. and she usually goes to Payless and this time when she walks in everything looks cheap and dingy and the uniforms of the employees scream minimum wage and it depresses her but at the same time she feels guilty because her friends shop there and she doesn't want to be considered a snob and...

b) When your timer goes off, go the the MIDDLE of that piece of writing and pull out a sentence. Set your timer for SEVEN minutes. Use the line you just pulled from your own writing as your start line. If you get stuck, just write This scene is about... and go from there. You can always go back to listing / short sentences.

I suggest using the "chaining" method for this one, in which the last word of a sentence is repeated as the first word in the next sentence. You can try that for fun and see how it goes. Some people really like where it takes their writing.


Polly wants to explain to her husband but she can't. Can't let him know how petty she feels. Feels like a stupid imbecile because she feels guilty about shoes. Shoes that used to bring her joy and a source of ritual with her best friend. Friend whose clothes look like tired cliches... etc.

c) Repeat the above process: go to the middle, pick a line to start with, write. THIS TIME set your timer for TEN minutes. The reason the time grows longer as you go is to get you to go deeper. If your writing time is limited, try 3-5-7 minutes instead.

You can decide whether to keep chaining or to try really long sentences connected together with conjunctions. I like to switch it up.

ALTERNATIVE: instead of choosing the middle line, simply start your timed writing with the line: In this scene _____ wants... and add one of the characters from that scene.


In this scene Mel wants Polly to tell him what's wrong. Wrong because even though he's a simple man he's not stupid. Stupid is how he's beginning to feel because Polly seems to be drifting farther and farther from him and he doesn't know what to do...

STEP TWO - “Moving Images” (approx 8 mins)

Are your hands tired yet? Well keep going! It's important that this process be done all at once to keep the momentum.

a) Go through the three pieces you just wrote and circle strong nouns or verbs or any other words that stand out. Maybe a thematic word. Jack and Bob called them "hot words." They are simply words that you know mean something to your story. Try to get at least 12-15 words. Write them down the LEFT HAND SIDE of your page.


b) Time yourself for FIVE minutes and after AS MANY of the words on your list, write what I call a "moving image." Meaning, how does this word manifest in the visual story you are telling? When you think of this image, what is happening on screen? I do this as a timed exercise just to keep my thoughts moving. Do as many as you can in any order. It doesn't matter if you complete all of them (I usually don't, not in 5 minutes at least).

Alone - Polly smearing blackberry lipstick across her lips
Guilty - Polly throwing out a dress her husband gave her for her birthday
Kiss - Polly being kissed on the cheek by a European supermodel
Ritual - Polly putting Mel's shoes by the door for him
Stones - Polly skipping rocks on the water with Michelle

Guess what? You now have a list of possible scenes for your screenplay/novel. Congratulations.

STEP THREE - THE SCENE (15 minutes)

Pick any one of the moving images listed above and write your scene. Action/Description and dialogue. Don't worry if it's not in script format, just keep writing. The amount of writing time is totally adjustable for your schedule, but try to take at least 10 minutes to do this. Take more if you're on a roll. Try another scene if you have more time.


Polly begins to remove things from the medicine cabinet. Perfumes from Europe, $50 lipstick. Polly removes a bottle of perfume and sprays her wrist. Smells it, likes it, sprays her neck. She puts it back and pulls out a few bottles of pills. The door opens and a dark Model enters.

The Model picks up the bottle of perfume.

Model (thick accent): The guy who makes this stuff is a letch.
Polly: I didn't, I'm sorry, I wasn't...
Model: Sure you were. Who wouldn't? Let's have a look.

The Model searches through the contents and picks out one of the bottles of pills. She slips it into her purse and makes a "SHHH" sign at Polly. She kisses Polly on the cheek.

(continue scene...)

I think you'll really surprise yourself with the results of this exercise and how many new scenes you generate. Where the scene takes place in the story doesn't matter. Just write!


Oh, so you're a masochist and ready for more?

Here's an exercise that takes anywhere from 25 - 35 minutes, depending on how long you time yourself. It's a good one for fleshing out an entire story in one sitting.

Here are the start lines in order.

1) The story I am writing is about a ______ who (woman, nurse, firefighter, cat, etc)
2) The CAGE ________ has built around herself looks like... (use name of character from #1)
3) ____________ escapes her CAGE by...
4) In the middle of the story _______ decides to...
5) At the end of my story ______ is/has... (does what? is where? has become?)

Write on each one for 5-7 minutes. I usually do short sentence / listing style for the first, chaining for the second and third, and long sentence release for the last two. But do it any way you like just KEEP WRITING.

Now go take on the week!


Anonymous said...

I *think* I get how to do this. Well I guess I'll find out if I have a scene at the end. :~0

I have to do the scene formula first but what did you mean in the alternate one at the bottom by *long sentence release*?

Danika Dinsmore said...

Long sentence release means writing without punctuation and just using conjunctions to connect everything together and not ever stopping until the timer goes off or if you do get a brain freeze just writing things like la la la I don't know what to say next so maybe I'll write that my protagonist only has 8 toes because...