In the promised follow-up to our last article, Turn that Scene on its Head, today we will be discussing an exercise to assist in pepping up your scenes by taking an ordinary situation and making it extraordinary.
Why: The golden rule of entertainment in any form is DON’T BE BORING. Unfortunately, many writers fall into the trap of writing “safely” where their characters act and react as would be expected of a normal person under similar circumstances, resulting in the scene being both predictable and dull. Audiences want to be surprised and entertained, not bored to death.
Purpose: To turn a predictable scene into an interesting one by altering a character’s reaction to changing circumstances.
Challenge: Take an existing scene (or write a new one) in which a character finds himself or herself in a situation that has just changed. Consider what the normal reaction might be for a character in those circumstances and then flip things around and have him/her react in a way that is diametrically opposite. The reaction should be outrageous and unexpected. Next, play out the consequences of this reaction. You will then need to write a justification for this behavior (which may or may not appear in the same scene).
- For purposes of this exercise, your character’s reaction should be diametrically and outrageously opposite of what is previously written or normally expected. The more outrageous, the better.
- The exercise works best when the situation is very normal or mundane. This lends more impact to the outrageous behavior which follows. (Need a little inspiration? Notalwaysright.com is a gold mine.)
- An office worker is called into his boss’s office and sacked. The former employee doesn’t cry or beg to keep his job, he rejoices.
- A young woman has just been asked out on a date by the man of her dreams. Her reaction? She starts screaming bloody murder.
- A young man discovers he’s just won the lottery jackpot and this makes him very, very angry.
- A mother’s oldest child has just moved out to go to college. Instead of crying her eyes out she breaks out the wine coolers and redecorates the child’s room.
- A married man comes home to find his wife waiting for him. She promptly demands a divorce. The man can barely contain his joy.
Challenge yourself by making the exercise more difficult:
- Attempt to justify the character’s unexpected reaction within the scene.
- Add a double twist by having the character enter the situation expecting one thing but instead receives the opposite. His unexpected reaction is harder to justify but also very interesting.
- For an even greater challenge, choose an incident which could go either way, such as a woman just discovering that she has superpowers. Both positive and negative reactions are expected. How will you surprise us?