About Character, Scene, and Story

Character, Scene, and Story: New Tools from the Dramatic Writer’s Companion
  • What is this guide and how does it relate to The Dramatic Writer’s Companion?
  • Designed for playwrights and screenwriters who are working on a script or about to begin one, Character, Scene, and Story is a sequel to The Dramatic Writer’s Companion. The new guide uses a similar structure and nonlinear approach to present more than 40 additional workshop-tested tools to help you write or revise a dramatic script. Whether you are a beginner or a professional, working alone or in a group, you can use these tools in any order any number of times, depending on your needs. Each exercise has been workshop tested and designed as a series of action steps to help you flesh out your own material – not someone else’s. The exercises thus become part of your writing process rather than something you do in addition to it.
  • Who is the audience for this guide?
  • Like The Dramatic Writer’s Companion, the guide is written from a playwright’s perspective, but addresses screenwriters as well as playwrights since both types of dramatic writers face many of the same character, scene, and story challenges. Exercises include streamlined analyses from both plays and films. Parts of this guide also may be useful to fiction writers, many of whom have used The Dramatic Writer’s Companion to explore ideas for their stories.
  • Can I use this guide even if I don’t have, or am not familiar with, The Dramatic Writer’s Companion?
  • Yes. Though alike in structure and approach, each guide is self-contained, so that you can use either one independently of the other. If you do have both companions at your desk, however, you will have more than 100 script development tools available as you develop new plays or screenplays. To facilitate such use, each exercise in this guide concludes with cross-references to related tools in The Dramatic Writer’s Companion. The Second Edition of The Dramatic Writer’s Companion includes similar cross-references back to this guide.
  • If I do have both guides, should I use them in a particular order?
  • The two guides can be used interchangeably and, since both are nonlinear, you can start at any point in either one of them. Just be sure to have read the introductory “About This Guide” so that you are familiar with how it works and what it offers. The “Exercise Menu” and “Exercises-At-A-Glance” table in each guide will help you find the type of exercise to try next as you flesh out your script.
  • What if I’m not sure of what to do next?
  • For those who prefer guidance in selecting exercises, the introductory “About This Guide” explains how the exercises have been organized to suit different stages of script development. You can be guided through the process of choosing a general section – character, scene, or story – and then a particular level of script development – Stage 1, 2, or 3 – and then a specific exercise. However, this system can be ignored by writers who want a less structured approach to using the guide or have become familiar with what it offers.
  • How do the exercises in this guide compare to those in The Dramatic Writer’s Companion?
  • Some of the tools in this guide focus on topics not covered in The Dramatic Writer’s Companion. Others explore the same topics but do so from a different angle or in more depth. Many call for intuitive responses. They help you dig deeper into your script by fleshing out characters from an emotional perspective, tapping the power of color and sense memory to trigger ideas, and trying other visceral techniques. The guide concludes with a troubleshooting section to help you tackle problem scenes.
  • How long does it take to do these exercises?
  • You can tailor each to your needs but – as with the original guide – most can be completed in thirty minutes or less.
  • Would I still be working on my own script while doing an exercise?
  • Yes. Though most of the exercises include some dramatic theory and examples from successful plays and films, the focus of each one is always on your characters in the unique world of your story. These are not exercises for their own sake, but rather tools to plan, write, and revise the script you want to develop.
Character, Scene, and Story: New Tools from the Dramatic Writer’s Companion
  • How were the new exercises chosen?
  • In the years since The Dramatic Writer’s Companion was first released in 2009, the author has continued to teach dramatic writing workshops – a total now of more than twenty-four hundred workshops — and to identify character, scene, and story issues that tend to arise during script critiques. Each new exercise in this guide has grown out of this experience and been tested with different groups of writers to ensure its effectiveness. The final collection has been designed to complement and enhance that of the original guide.
  • What is an example of how this guide is cross-referenced to The Dramatic Writer’s Companion?
  • As with the original guide and as suggested by its title, this guide is organized into three main sections focusing on character, scene, and story development. Each exercise translates dramatic theory into steps that guide you through the next task at hand in the development of your script. In the “Causing a Scene” section, for example, “Levels of Desire” uses a series of ideas and questions to help you explore the objectives of your characters at three levels: what they want overall in the story, what they want in a particular scene, and what they want from beat to beat as the scene unfolds. After completing the exercise, if you wish to explore objectives further, you will find cross-references to related topics in The Dramatic Writer’s Companion: “For more about character objectives, go to the “Causing a Scene” section and try ‘What Does the Character Want?’ For more about dramatic action at the beat level, try ‘How It Happens’ or ‘Thinking in Beats’ in the same section.”
  • What about the troubleshooting section for difficult scenes?
  • Some scenes are more difficult to write than others and may be indicative of problems elsewhere in the script. “Fixing That Problem Scene” is a special troubleshooting section at the end of the guide to help you analyze a troublesome scene, identify exercises from this guide to address the issues raised, and find the solutions that best fit your story. Detailed practical questions lead you through an in-depth exploration of more than a dozen critical scenic elements – from “Characters,” “Timeframe,” and “Setting” to “Exposition,” “Visual Imagery” and “Scenic Event.”
  • How do I get a copy?
  • Through the University of Chicago Press or most major bookstores. Character, Scene, and Story (240 pages) is available in paper and electronic versions. Click here to obtain your copy.