Building Up A Scene

Playwriting Exercises - CREATIVE CUP OF TEA

Our workshops included insights about character, dialogue, monologue, setting and voice. It seems that we have all the elements to start writing. Professor Musgrave wanted us to do an exercise which led to us building up a scene in class. He asked us to think about a thing that we know a lot about, or that we can do. An area of expertise. I thought about playing ukulele. He asked to think about five words that can be associated with that thing.

  • Rhythm
  • Chords
  • Tune
  • Adaptation
  • Jam

Then he wanted us to write five facts about that thing.

  • You need to listen to a lot of music, often the same songs many times, to learn how to play well.
  • There are different kinds of ukuleles.
  • Not all the songs are good if played with the ukulele.
  • Sometimes, even if you’d like to sing and play in the same tune as your favourite singer, you can’t because 1) you can have different voice extension, especially if he’s a guy and you’re a girl and viceversa 2) you’re not half good as they are
  • Sometimes your fingers will hurt as hell after playing

Write down five values that you need to have if you do this thing.

  • You need to love what you do to be good at it
  • You need to listen carefully
  • You need to feel like playing with each other, not only by yourself
  • You need to be corageous, spontaneous
  • You need to be patient

Now choose one value and expand it. I chose courage.

The opposite of courage is fear and anxiety. This could lead us to having no voice. But having the motivation of singing and playing with a group of people can give you that courage. Also, musicians always have a special appeal. These are all good reasons to be corageous.


Now choose another value and expand it. I chose patience.

The opposite of patience is impatience, which can mean the arrogance of thinking that you can get good results very soon. But being patient means to take on the pain, the sweat, to spend time alone in your room practicing for hours.

Now create a setting in which this activity happens.

Summer evening on the beach. Group of friends singing Tender by Blur. They’re shouting the chorus and are completely drunk.

Now write down five sentences or words that people in this scene could say.

  • Oh my babe, oh my, oh why
  • Sing, asshole!
  • I got the E chord wrong
  • I lost the rhythm
  • I’m fucking pissed

Now write down five values that these people probably have.

  • Love
  • Friendship
  • Courage
  • Passion
  • Sense of group

Now write down the opposites of those values.

  • Shyness
  • Closure
  • Uneasiness
  • Anxiety
  • Indifference


Now write the scene. The dialogue must be between two characters. One is positive, the other one is negative. The activity you described must be present. Use all of the 5 sentences that those people would say.

Summer evening on the beach. The sea is in the background, with big rocks emerging from it. Night. There is a group of seven people singing Tender by Blur. They’re sitting on the beach, on some colourful towels, surrounding a fire. They’re all drinking. One has a guitar, another one as an ukulele, another has a drum. Three are just singing and drinking happily. One is not singing.

EVERYBODY.         Oh my babe, oh my babe…. oh my, oh why!

                                   JAMIE, the ukulele playes, looks at TOM and sees that he’s not singing.

JAMIE                       Sing, asshole! Why are you looking at us with that face?

TOM                          Because I just want to sink into the ground now. You sound like drunk 

                                    monkeys in the mating season.

JAMIE                       That’s a pretty good description of what we are, actually.

GUITARMAN           Oh, fuck, I got the E chord wrong!

JAMIE                        (To Tom). See? You’re making us lose the rhythm.

                                    JAMIE takes a sip of beer, but half of the beer falls into his ukulele.

TOM                          This is just gross.

JAMIE                       Come on. I know that you’re only too shy to sing, but don’t worry. Even

                                   if you suck, no one will realise it.

TOM                          The only thing I’m realising is that you’re fucking pissed and that you

                                   sound more like a dying hound than like Damon Albarn.

JAMIE                      You can bet on it. At least I’m having fun! Come on!

                                   JAMIE punches him on the shoulder.


                                 TOM shrugs, then stands up.

TOM                        Go on.  I’ll just go for a walk.

JAMIE                     Alright, but you’re a fucking fuss. God, I’m drunk.

Everybody            Oh my babe, oh my babe…



This exercise helped me realising that stories can really come up out of nowhere. Exercises in class can be considered a bit difficult because it’s not easy to come up with good ideas if you have only a specific and very short amount of time, but actually when Professor Musgrave told us to come to class with a good idea for a story, it was even more difficult. This led to another exercise.

Take your idea and write it down in 3 sentences.

  • A guy sitting on his bed. The bed is under the window, with some pictures on the wall.
  • The guy is playing the ukulele. He has his head on the pillow and legs against the wall, like he’s upside down.
  • Sound of rain outside.

Now write it in one sentence.

A guy is sitting upside down on his bed under the window, playing Feels Like We Only Go Backwards by Tame Impala on the ukulele and singing softly, without covering the sound of rain coming from outside.

How does your character change?

The story is between the guy and his roommate, who always wants to go out. The guy prefers to remain at home for many reasons. Here is the conflict. The one will accept the guy’s strangeness, the other will love London his own window, playing the ukulele as his soundtrack of the city.

This is just a very embrionic idea. Professor wanted us to think about how the characters change and evolve, what happens in the story, what is the plot. A good, romantic scene is not enough to make a story. There must be something building up, developing, changing.




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