A Writing Exercise To Increase Your Powers Of Observation

Get ready to dust up those three manuscripts you have sitting in your desk drawer!

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Photo by Robert Borden

The Exercise: pick an episode from your favourite TV show and convert it to script form.

Ever since I discovered how much of a visual person I am (quite a revelation for a musician!), I’ve devoted more of my time to find how to leverage this specific advantage for various projects. Usually, that starts with ‘Exploratory Play‘ where I’d follow a thread and see where it goes. Sometimes it leads to a new connection. The key is to find the forks and follow them (or choose one, depending on your time constraints).

Before I started to write regularly, I struggled. Partly because I saw writing as this static thing: there was only one way to write. I realise now that it was more of me attempting to write in a specific (non-visual) way. So writing a novel or a short story would not be the best way to leverage my visual self.

You got it: screenplays. That was a nice eureka moment.

I started to experiment in bits. Looking back to some of the previous exercises I did (here’s a scene from ‘Elementary’ and another from ‘Rush Hour’), I see now how much I’ve grown. After coming across countless writers mentioning that the way to get better is to read a lot, I thought going for the end product (the version of the episode that ended up on air) might be much helpful than reading the script.

Halfway doing an episode of Rectify (Thrill Ride – Season 3 Episode 2) I found myself delving more in the little details that actors would do that may or may not have been in Ray McKinnon’s script. By the time I got to the scene when Person was laying it on Daggett because of what he did, it occurred to me that I may need to find out more about facial expressions. Person wore an expression that seemed like a cross between amusement and an over-the-top pout — I got stuck in finding an elegant (as Person is) way to describe it.

The other thing I noticed while watching this immensely slowed down version of the episode (the show already has a slower pace than say ‘The Good Fight‘) was a lot of the subtext. At one point, I found my closet-romantic self yelling out: ‘No!? Person and Daggett!? Why didn’t I notice that before!!!?’ and ‘Well, they’re both unattached…and Carl clearly respects Sondra.’.

Whether it is to hand a tinge of indulgence to your romantic self (wherever it is: closet or not) or to give your brain a workout. This might be the exercise that continually helps you unearth the kind of threads you can follow.


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