Using Formal Scenes

THE PLAYWRITING SEMINARS > STRUCTURE > TIME > FLASHBACKS > SCENES

'. . . I wasn't thinking in terms of cinema, but in terms of Shakespeare. He was never bothered by the fourth wall and realism, a thing I'm always trying to bust out of. He had scenes that lasted one page, two pages, a few lines here and a few lines there. He could move from place to place at will, and cover a lot of time. I think it's a model for how stories can be told again.'

-- Octavio Solis

Building a play from a series of short formal Scenes gains you a technical advantage in using Time. If you've found you're a bit short-winded for a full-length play in continuous time, this is a good way to solve that problem. And short scenes give you the Screenwriter's luxury of moving the action of your story through multiple locations -- another great way to create new conflict.

Technically, each time you start a new formal Scene, you're picking a new secondary Point of Attack. And by doing that, you've got the potential for a jump in time between these Scenes. This gives you the same advantage as an Intermission -- what's happened in that break in time can refuel the conflict between your characters.

Plays put together this way usually have a minimum of 4 scenes to a maximum of about 10 in Act I. Since Act II is invariably shorter, it will often have at least one Scene less than the first Act.

And it allows you to shift Time from the present to the past -- or even to take us to multiple pasts, as Charles Fuller did in A SOLDIER'S PLAY.

With each new scene, you're giving yourself the chance to begin what's almost a new play with the same characters. That's not really what you're doing, but the freedom you probably felt as you began Act I -- coming from all the conflict waiting to be released -- can be partially recreated by the use of this short scene structure.

Another reason to look carefully at these possibilities: the majority of playwrights working today are using this technical device. Partly, they've been influenced by Film, but audiences also seem to like this kind of wide-ranging storytelling technique. They've had lots of training in it from watching all those flickering images at their local multiplex.


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