This has been a crazy week in terms of how much I’ve had going on. I’ve had the same, excessive, number of hours of classes, but 33 hours of them were writing classes, which required substantially more to be done outside of class. As such, by Thursday I ended up going to bed at 8pm. Which was fine, I got the work required done. It is interesting setting the alarm for 1am to do a couple of hours work and then get a few more hours sleep. Interesting, but also effective. And the biggest outcome of this week has been that I’ve learnt how to write dialogue, and also that the dialogue hat I wrote sounds quite natural when performed. Nice!
I’ll start at the start though, with Writing 1, a 3 hour a day course at Second City. This course was designed to teach us how to write a script for a comedy sketch. What you will see here is my works in progress and exercises for specific purposes. I hope that I will write several more dialogues that I will post here for your amusement (or for my own amusement, if we are being honest with each other. I mean, of course I want you to enjoy it, but hey, even if you weren’t reading this, I’d still be writing, how self indulgent I am!)
Our first task was to describe a back yard as if we were standing in it. We were writing to let the Director know, so this is enough detail for them to see it. Focus on visual and sensual details.
The patio has a cast iron table on it, the metal looping around in a floral pattern, the black paint peeling off here and there from the wear of the weather and the years. This back yard faces north, so in the afternoon of a Chicago summer it catches no sun. There are two church candles in large, square, glass holders, with metal rims around the tops.
The floor is wooden decking, a pale brown shade, in a good state but not new, and on the decking are several outdoor rugs, designed to give the space an indoor feel. There is a corridor from the back door to the garden gate, a step down from the rest of the patio, and the gate itself is thin lathes of wood, a flimsy creature with a pressed metal handle, the latch not pushed fully through, it’s cheapness shown by its bending and flaked paint.
Notes for me from that:
Think about how to show us that it is Chicago, show us that it is summer, show us that it is afternoon; show us, don’t tell us.
The notes given to the others in the class for their pieces:
Show us some evidence of who lives there / its history.
Put in more and specific detail.
Describe it from a single perspective, i.e. the back of the yard looking at the house.
If there is an animal, show us the evidence without showing the animal.
Nail down the time of day, the time of year, but show us, don’t tell us.
Make sure to use more colour, make the details stand out.
This is not a personal description, so use less personal, less supposes, make it a concrete description.
The next exercise was to incorporate the above and tell us more about the person who lives / lived there.
The patio has a cast iron table on it, the metal looping around in a floral pattern, the black paint peeling off here and there from the wear of the weather and the years. This back yard faces north, so the flat light of the sun slants past the house, striking the corner. There are two church candles in large, square, glass holders, with metal rims around the tops. The full set of chairs match the table, and there is a current season Chicago Red Socks shirt flung over the back of one of them.
You can hear the sound of crickets, and the muffled bark of a dog from the next door yard. There is an old, slightly faded cat flap with a cartoon of Garfield on it on the bottom of the door. There is an sit up and beg bike resting against the wooden slatted 6 foot high fence, and beyond the fence you can see two more house in the row to the left, beyond which is a tall apartment block, it’s small windows poking out of the brick like the viewpoint from a highrise prison.
The floor is wooden decking, a pale brown shade, in a good state but not new, and on the decking are several outdoor rugs, designed to give the space an indoor feel. The don’t look new, but they look in a good state. The same goes for the cushions on the chairs, giving the whole place the feeling of a comfortable room. There is a corridor from the back door to the garden gate, a step down from the rest of the patio, and the gate itself is thin lathes of wood, a flimsy creature with a pressed metal handle, the latch not pushed fully through, it’s cheapness shown by its bending and flaked paint. It rattles when opened, and beyond it are 3 black wheelie bins.
Notes for me:
Good mentioning of the neighbourhood.
Chicago has White Socks (ha, the chavs!)
Notes for others:
Details, details – they tell us about who lives there.
Next exercise was to focus in on a chair in the backyard, someone’s favourite spot to be in the yard.
Beyond the table, is an upright wooden loop, arcing up to 7ft high, with a hook hanging from the top. From this hook hangs a Brazilian hammock chair, the white cotton cords slating from the platted loop at the top, down to the spacer wood, underneath which dangles this yellow, white and red checked comfortable cocoon. The folds of the cloth make it clear it was recently vacated, and there is a square blue tasselled cushion buried in the bottom of the chair, with a clear indent still in the top.
To the side is a low, round wooden table, about 8 inches across, with two old bottles of Ranger beer and a small crumb covered blue plate on it. Next to them is a copy of Dan Browns “Davinci Code”, it’s face down, open to somewhere in the middle, it’s pages dogeared corners showing their well thumbedness. Either the owner really abuses his books or this was owned by several people before the owner.
Notes for me:
“Either the owner really abuses his books or this was owned by several people before the owner.” This information is not necessary, let the reader decide.
The detail tells everything, so Dan Brown is good as it is specific.
Next we’d to describe the person in the chair.
Moving to the chair is a 6ft tall man, about 30 years old, who casually carries a bottle of beer which he opens with an opener he has on his keyring. His keyring has a dozen keys on it and his pockets are bulked with wallet, bits of paper and irrelevances
Moving with the purposeful gait of a hiker, he’s athletic in build, but normal rather than stacked, wearing a loose fitting white polo shirt with a FedEx logo on it. It is faded, and the collar is warn, it’s not dirty but there is a recent beer stain on it. His shorts are long, cargo style, and he’s wearing no socks in his dark blue Crocks.
He has a slightly weathered face, a healthy colour of tan, and the wrinkles of a smiler. His eyes are too close together and his hair is dark and straight and falls in front of his face. He uses hair oil, and it is cropped to a grade 3 down the sides. He looks well groomed, but in sloppy clothing.
On his wrist, he is wearing a large divers watch, and there is the mark of but no wedding band on his finger. His fingernails are bitten to the quick, but his hands are clean.
Monologue exploring how this person talks
“And I was just paying for my coffee, when this pretty girl, must have been about 25, who was sitting at the end of the bar, pipes up and says “latte? You look like a guy who’d drink his coffee black”. Well, clearly a chat up line, but also a challenge.
“There was a part of me that thought, ah, can I really be bothered, but hey, I bantered with her for a bit, turns out she was just in the city for a short time, so I sat with her and drank my coffee there. Course I got her number, we’re meeting up tonight. What do you reckon, I was thinking I might take her to that pub down on Racine?
“Yeah, well, it’s a nice enough place, I don’t want to take her anywhere too fancy, give her ideas! She was cute, so who knows. What about you, met anyone decent recently?
“No? Well, you’ve got to get out if you want to meet them. Hey, look at you, you probably need to start to think about getting married soon, you’re getting Old!”
Note for me:
This monologue should be to someone there, not to someone on the phone, that is a bit of a cheat.
We described a patio
Did a rewrite on that
Described a chair
Described a person
Monologue with that person
We are going from External to Internal
This exercise has roots in E L Raturo’s Ragtime
If you have nothing to write, describe what is around you.
Describe the characters there, how would they speak, what would their motivations be?
We are discovering through writing. This is a good exercise in rewriting too – a practice in Showing vs Telling
Commitment / emotional investment
What do people want?
To be seen
To be heard
To be touched
To be loved
Put your character in front of the person that they really need to speak to. It is comedy, so character’s will seldom ask directly for what they want.
Monologue about who I am, where I am, what I want – like the start of an improv scene.
As practice, do this as a Starbucks exercise, writing out what the characters there are after.
then add in other characters there, what would they want from them
My character wants
to be touched – he is lonely
“Hey Jane, it was so nice of you to join me here, this was my favourite spot to come with Phyllis, my wife, you can see for miles, we’d make a camp and snuggle up to watch the sunset. You look so pretty, are you warm enough? I’ve extra blanket in the truck. Phillis always made sure I brought stuff to keep us warm, I used to be so absent minded.
“So you have lived in New York for a long time? Wow, well I’m glad I was able to take you somewhere away from the smoke and the traffic. Phyllis always said that the traffic gave her a headache, we used to laugh a lot. Sorry, I shouldn’t be talking about her while I’m with you. It’s just that I miss her, the way she used to touch my cheek. Would you… no don’t worry, hey, look at that squirrel, he looks almost tame. Ha, don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the evil squirrel. Phyllis always said I was a brave knight and would always protect her from everything.
“Not that you look like you need protection, and I’d never impose myself. Unless you want me to protect you. From squirrels I mean, haha.
Here, let me put this blanket around you, there you should be warmer. Let me get you some hot chocolate, I’ve got some in the thermos. It was always Phyllis’s favourite drink.
You don’t like chocolate?