Writing 1 with Joe Janes, final day: How to write

Well, this was a very long week for me, we covered quite a lot of ground and the amount of work that I did was substantial for this and the other writing classes. Productive, I would like to continue to write daily, I think it’s a good habit to get into.

We covered quite a lot on the final day, including how to structure a Second City Review, and how to write and get into the writing habit.

This week I learnt:
This week I have learnt how to write speech.
I have learnt that I myself can write convincing dialogue. This is very satisfying as it had previously seemed anathema to me. I even feel quite happy about some of the speech that I produced.
I learnt that funny dialogue is not in fact that difficult to produce. When people read your work, it is often much more amusing to see them perform it than it was to put down on the page.
Also, funny comes more from character and relationship.
Writing can be like written improv, and it is useful to use the tools from that when writing.

During the week we played a pad swap game, where we sat opposite a partner, we had a location and a relationship and one would write a line of dialogue, hand it over to the other, until we came up with a number of lines.

Dialogue between two people
Relationship: Father and son
Location: Prison cell

Really, you left the toilet seat up?

Dad, it’s not as if Mum’s here. What would you rather, that I peed on the seat?

Of course not, but it’s still the polite thing to do. Even in these surroundings.

These surroundings? I’m only here because of my chivalry, trying to defend a father who was too absentminded to make sure his car was roadworthy! We’re lucky they didn’t Tazer us.

Well, if you weren’t smoking grass, I could have paid more attention to the road.

Well, like father, like son. Mum is going to kill us.

I don’t want to talk about her. Hmm, we’re going to have to use your college fund to bail us out of here.

You what?! No way, I’d rather stay stuck in here with you for a month, hell though it will be, than give up college. That would mean I would be stuck with you for the rest of my life, Christ, I’ve got to get out of this town. You spend that and you may soon find you’ve a soon who’s a travelling belly dancer!

That would be my dream!

Remembering location and relationship:

The next level of this game is where each can only 3 words or less.
The next level, each writes stage direction, seeing how much we can convey non verbally
Finally, we write entirely silent scenes.

This is a challenge that is a great exercise to practice.

A variation on the above is to not see what the other person has written. Before handing over the paper, they fold it over and hand it back to you. Using the 5 plot point structure, it is possible to work out roughly where you are in the scene. After a page or two, see what has resulted. Often some very interesting ideas emerge.


How to write
One key to writing is determining the best time for you to write. When you know this, a variation on the below as a regular brain workout can be hugely productive.

30 minutes: Do something “else” – physical within your environment – cleaning, walking the dogs, washing. It is almost getting out of the system the stuff that you might otherwise be worrying about doing when you are writing. If you are worrying about anything, write this down too, it allows you not to have to think about it while you are writing.
30 minutes: Read. Read something that you are not working on, this is to get your brain ready for words, but without having to be working – free reading if you were.
45 minutes: Write, write, write. If you have nothing specific to write, then free write. At 45 minutes, STOP, even if it is mid sentence – in fact, it is better mid sentence as that is easier to complete when you start again!
15 minutes: Dance like a maniac – get back into your body. Great fun in Starbucks, especially after the first 30 seconds when everyone is now bored. Do it.
45 minutes: Write some more.

When you want to write something in particular, plug into this structure. When you don’t , free write, it becomes like a mental workout, your body prepares for it, becomes excellent at it. Writer’s block is unnecessary.


The basic layout of a sketch review:

1: Opener. Here you introduce the cast (generally this is equitable so they get to see everyone equally), set the tone, the theme, warm up the crowd. Here you make your contract with the audience as to what they will see. This is why a musical number is quite good here.

Alternatively, you can do 3, fast, funny, quick black out scenes. Or you might do this as well as the opener.

2: This is a cast scene, showing off the crazy characters. Reinforce to the audience who you have in your cast.

3: Relationship scene. Here you are starting to focus on the audience. We have given them the energy, and now we are starting to channel that energy.

4: A conventional scene

5: A cast scene. This may be musical. This is the middle of the show, we are reminding the audience who the cast are.

6: Relationship scene

7: A serious scene / the riskiest scene / psychotic scene / deconstruction scene. Here is your biggest playpen, you have got the licence to do so, make use of it.

8: This should be the funniest scene in the show. That is both in case the previous scene doesn’t work and because you are now in the Run Out.

9: This is the Closer. Full cast, maybe musical. This should be more skillful, maybe ties up the theme from the start of strands though the show, call backs etc.


And that is the basic layout of a Second City review!


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