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Extended Scene Writing

Assignment Summary

For homework or in class, students are asked to make a list of their important interests and pivotal events that may have helped to shape them. Ask them to also think of stories that are linked to those interests, and about the places where those stories occurred.

Next class, ask students to choose one moment from the writing they have brought to class. Ask them to choose a very brief period of time--say, fifteen minutes. (Fifteen minutes is only a ballpark number; they just shouldn't try to write about a day, or a week, or a year.) This can be a very dramatic moment, but it doesn't have to be. It should be a time that they can remember very well, and they should try to remember the specific details of the moment-- where they were, who was involved, what they felt like, what people did and said, even things that may seem totally irrelevant. Tell them that all the details may not come back to them, however, until they spend some time thinking and writing about the moment.

They write about two pages which do nothing except tell the story of those fifteen minutes. Tell them to create a scene, almost as if it were happening in a movie, using lots of description, detail, and dialogue if it seems appropriate. They should remember that all the people who appear in the scene, including themselves, are characters, and that they have bodies as well as feelings and thoughts which should be observed in the scene. Encourage them to remember the details of body language and describe these.

I have them do this part of the exercise in class and then revise at home, but all of it can be done at home. Ask them to type it up and make three copies to share with other students at the next class. Follow with the Extended Scene Analysis assignment.

Instructor's Comments

When adult students are asked to write about themselves for the first time, they tend to write very abstractly about what was going through their heads at any moment. (Children probably respond very concretely, and to some degree this exercise tries to recapture that response.) The concrete details of the environment are considered irrelevant and inappropriate. This exercise rests on the assumption that every element of sensual and concrete detail, every extraneous feeling and impulse, is potentially informative and important to the telling of a story. The exercise seems to help students not only describe their personal experiences, but to analyze them in terms of details that they may have otherwise forgotten. (Editing can take place at a later time as suits the student's needs and instructor's  direction.)  The exercise also encourages writers to write with depth about a relatively narrow topic.

genre narrative
course WRT 101 and up
activity type individual writing assignment
skills voice, descriptive writing, dialogue writing
duration 2 classes
handouts: none
contributor: Cynthia Davidson