This is an exercise I created yesterday for a friend’s writing group. I wasn’t able to make the workshop last night, so wrote it out for my friend to facilitate. I’ve decided to share it here.
I often use timed exercises in my workshops, partly as warm-ups, but also to remind writers it is possible to achieve something, even in a very busy day. With timed, structured exercises, you can write something in less than fifteen minutes, something which will not be an end in itself, perhaps, but technical, craft-based.
As a playwright, I’m very concerned with the ebb and flow of language – its musicality, pace and tempo-rhythms. The following simple exercise encourages the writer to think about syntax, rhythm and flow. It doesn’t overly concern itself with characterisation or even narrative – its focus is on dialogue and dynamic – but as it requires some storylining, it may spark an idea for further writing.
If anyone tries this exercise, please let me know how you got in the comments, below.
The Hotel Room
A twenty-six year old man and a forty-nine year old woman sit on the sole bed in a hotel room. They are both clothed. One may speak more than the other.
a) What is the situation? What is their relationship, if any? Why are they here? What is going to happen next? Have they met before? Does one want something from the other? Is one disappointed, or enamoured, or in shock about something? Try to work against the more obvious scenarios the setting provokes.
Explore the situation, without exposition, in dialogue. Try not to criticise the first ideas – just get the words down, selection and rewriting comes later. 10 mins.
b) Take a further 10 mins to revise, paying particular attention to the tempo-rhythm and flow of dialogue. Experiment with the difference between smooth, flowing dialogue in long sentences and ‘bitty’, jagged interaction. Try not to keep to one ‘tone’ or rhythmic quality.
What happens if one character speaks in flowing sentences, the other haltingly and staccato? Perhaps there are passages when both figures use the same tempo-rhythm, then get out of ‘sync’, then in tune and rhythm again…
Take a further 5 mins if necessary to make notes for possible further development and to identify any reflections/discoveries on diaalogue from doing the exercise.