Weekend (Re)Writing Workout – A Change of Scenery

I’ve been a delinquent blogger and now that the crazy that was my July is over, I hope to post again on a regular basis.

Instead of the usual timed writing workout I post for the weekend, I thought I’d give you something fun to try if you’re in rewrite mode and have come across an undynamic 2 person scene. Maybe it reads flat, just talking heads.

(And if you’re not in rewrite mode, you can still do the exercise, just write a scene first)

I used to have my screenwriting students write an exchange of dialogue between two people in conflict (the start line was “I can’t believe you just …”). No description, no action, just dialogue.

Then, I’d have them rewrite the scene twice, placing the characters in two different locations. For instance, say they wrote a scene where a woman is breaking up with her boyfriend. First, they’d just write the dialogue. Then, they might rewrite the scene at an amusement park on a roller coaster. Then again at the produce isle of a supermarket.

click image for source

People sometimes forget how useful setting is. And props! Instead of having your characters express themselves by rolling their eyes, looking out the window, biting their lips, crossing their arms or putting them on their hips . . . have them squeeze an avocado so hard they get in trouble from the grocer, or so angry that they trip getting out of the roller coaster car, or slam their fist into a table in a 5-star restaurant sending a fork flying through the air. Give your characters something to do, either absent-mindedly or purposefully (perhaps that avocado will go flying at someone’s head).

And if you put your characters in a restaurant, how does the scene change if it’s not a 5-star restaurant, but a Chuck E. Cheese?

If you’ve got a flat scene with “talking heads” – think about where you could place them so that the characters can interact with their surroundings and express themselves through their environment. As well, the language you use to describe the setting could reflect the tone of the scene or the objects could be metaphors for what’s happening in the story.

Settings my students have used: theme parks, libraries, trains, elevators, office parties, the sky (skydiving), the ocean (scuba diving), convalescent hospitals, airplanes, kindergartens, doctor’s offices.

Have fun and have a great weekend.


  1. 4amWriter
    Aug 22, 2012

    You have such wonderful ideas for writing exercises. I’m sure I mentioned before that I teach creative writing to kids, and I’m always looking for new ideas to keep them engaged (as kids get bored soooo easily). I bet I can tailor this one for 10 year olds. Thanks!

  2. You know what – I give the same exercises to both kids and adults. The only difference is how I direct them and what the expected results will be (kids are far more creative, on the whole, of course). I think kids would have great fun with this exercise.

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