Thursday, April 28, 2011

Writing Exercise: Practice Writing a Scene

Which writer has not been advised to turn this or that passage into a scene? The problem is: how exactly do you do that? First, of course, you need the parts that make a scene: action (something needs to happen), actors (somebody or something is doing something), a specific time, and a specific place. Second, the action needs to be important enough to be rendered as a scene because a scene grabs the reader's attention. You don't want to deliver background information in a scene but rather something important that moves the story forward or illustrates an important characteristic or point.

Writing Exercise: Read the following passage (used here with the permission of one of my students) which offers all the ingredients of a scene, yet is written in summary. Use your imagination and rewrite it as a scene so that the reader can experience it. Use dialogue, render the place and time, and let us see and hear the people involved! Feel free to post your scene in the comment section.

  • Tuesday, January 25, 2005. Supervisor A shows me my billable hours for the previous day. I had billed only 4.20 hours. She says I will have to get that up to 7 hours per day, OR ELSE! I notice on the sheet she shows me that the charge for my time is $75-$82/hour, depending on the client. I'm getting paid less than $25/hour. What's wrong with this picture? After the scary reprimand and threat, I go into panic mode and do as much as I can today. It seems to be the expectation that you put in a lot of (unpaid) overtime to bill enough hours for the company.


  1. A fun exercise, Annette. My effort below. I don't write much fiction but I enjoyed doing this.

    I turned the page on my desk calendar. Tuesday, January 25, 2005, the second anniversary of Glenn's accident. Two full years in a nursing home, and his condition is the same as the day they moved him there from the hospital. I wiped away a tear that had spilled over just as Gilda Gargoyle walked into my office. Her real name is Mary O'Donnell but she has the stone face of a gargoyle and a heart that must be the same. What does she have in her hand that she's waving at my face? With her, it's always something I'd like to avoid.

    "Jan, I'm not happy with your hours billed for yesterday. What in the world were you doing all day? 4.20 billable hours is unacceptable!"

    "I had to take some time to go to the nursing home yesterday. There was a problem and they needed me." My voice came through strong, but inside I quivered like jello. I needed this job but there were times when Glenn needed me, too.

    Gilda glared over the top of her half-glasses. "You have a full-time job here, but unless you start billing 7 hours a day, you'll be sitting in that nursing home all day. Look at this!" She slammed the papers on my desk where I had no choice but to read the spot where her red nail pointed.

    What I saw there startled me so that I gasped and then bit my tongue, keeping the words I wanted to say locked away. They billed my time as $75-82 an hour, and I get paid less than $25. Less than a third of what the firm gets. I wanted to hurl the papers back at her, but I dredged up every ounce of self-control I had and stood up. Pick your words carefully I cautioned myself.

    "I'll try to do better. If I have to leave in the afternoon to go to Glenn, I'll come back and work in the evening. I'll see that there is no less than 7 hours a day billed." My words were what she wanted to hear but not the ones I truly wished to say. I'd kowtow to the gargoyle to keep this job, and somehow I'd ask for a raise when review time came around.

    Gilda snatched the papers off my desk. "I don't give a damn when you work, just see that you get those hours in every day. And remember this--your personal tragedy means nothing to this firm." She gave me one final glare and sailed out the door.

  2. You do have imagination, Nancy! Thanks for giving this a try! The idea is to practice fleshing out a scene even in nonfiction where you might start out with remembering only snippets of a conversation.

  3. Hi,
    I built the following scene for this.

    Wednesday morning - 25th April

    A small 4 by 4 corner cubicle. A large white monitor on the corner side , the screen facing outward. A key board in front of it. The area on the right of the monitor is filled with wires, some papers, A writing pad and a pen sat at the top of the slightly messy pile. To the left of the computer is a photograph frame , a handbag and a mobile phone.
    A 25+ woman sits on the chair in front of the computer. She is clicking on the mouse and staring intently at the screen. She is Maria.
    There's a rap on the side of her cubicle and startled she turns around. A middle aged man is standing right outside. He is wearing a light blue shirt with khaki trousers. His hair is unkempt and beard unshaved. But his eyes are alert.He has a sheet in his hand.He is her boss, Mr Menon.
    Menon - "Can I speak to you for a minute?"
    Maria (startled by the unexpected visit) - "Yes, sure. Can I help you with anything?"
    Menon - "I was going through your billing hours for the job at Raman & Co".
    A smile appears on Maria's face. She was about to be praised for her terrific job with their annual reports. She had spent hours researching and had traveled to their factories across the city to get the information. She expected it to be completed in two more days.
    Maria - "Yes?"
    Menon - "You have billed only 4.2 hours yesterday.This will just not do Maria!"
    A shocked look on Maria's face - "What do you mean sir?"
    Menon - "This is your full time job and billing hours per day have to be a minimum of 7 hours."
    Maria - "But sir , off the paper work for this job took a lot of time and you know other than traveling expenses, I cannot bill those hours!"
    Menon - "That is not my problem Maria, you have promised a service and the company expects 7 hours a day! Its in the terms here!"
    He waves a paper in her face. She pauses and looks at it. It didn't seem like terms to her. It seemed to be a billing sheet. Menon must have made a mistake. Startled she looks at the sheet. Her 4.2 hours were billed at $85/hour to the client while she received only a measly $25/hour!
    She did not point out that he had the wrong sheet but mentally thanked God for the information.The company was not only cheating her of fair money but expecting her to work overtime to bill more hours as well!
    She meekly nods at Menon.
    Menon - "Buckle up Maria! Consider this your first warning. Next time the matter won't be treated so lightly!"
    She looks at his retreating back. Then turns to her computer and starts typing. her computer screen is shown to the viewers as she types in job search terms on