4: Telling Stories Through Action and Dialogue
Students will show and understanding of script structure by shifting story ideas into dialogue and action.
Have two students go in front of the class. Give them a situation for a scene to improvise (training a new employee, student requesting a grade change from a teacher, teenager caught by parent coming home after curfew, etc.). During the course of the scene, if the students present a line or action that is weak, ring the bell. The students then have to go back and perform the word or action again in another form. You can ring the bell as often as you like. Encourage the students to stay in the moment when you ring the bell and perform the revision based on the first idea that comes to their mind.
TRANSITION: Ask the class if the forced revisions made the scene better or worse. (Some changes will probably make the scene stronger and some weaker.) Have each student take out a piece of paper. Before they begin this activity, review proper manuscript format for playwriting and have one student define “dramatic writing” (from lesson 1).
STEP 1: Guided Practice: Each student will write a short scene with the requirements that you give them. You can write these requirements on the board if you wish. The scene involves two characters, Bob and Sarah. Bob and Sarah have had some connection, but are now ending that connection. The students can decide who is leaving (it can be an end to a relationship or just a departure or separation), the reason, and what kind of relationship existed. The scene needs to include exactly 16 lines of dialogue, 8 lines for each actor. It can include stage directions, but it needs to let us know as much as possible in 16 lines. Give them 6-8 minutes to create these scenes.
STEP 2: When the students are done, share some of the scenes with the class. The playwright must cast the scene and the actors have a moment to review it before reading it. The playwright should not read their own work to see if the script stands on its own.
STEP 3: Have the class discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the script. Did the lines give enough information? Did they give too much information? Did we understand the relationship between the two and the reason for the departure? Most importantly, did it engage us as audience members?
STEP 4: Have the students write a new scene. This time, the basic situation is the same (with Bob and Sarah), but they can change the particulars (who is leaving and why). For this script, however, they are to use only 10 words of dialogue total. The 10 words can be divided how ever they wish among the two characters. Give the students a couple of minutes to write their scenes.
STEP 5: When the students are done, share some of the scenes with the class. The playwright must cast the scene and the actors have a moment to review it before reading it. The playwright should not read his/her own work to see if the script stands on its own.
STEP 6: Have the class discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the script. Did the script give enough information? Did they give too much information? Did we understand the relationship between the two and the reason for the departure? Were these scripts stronger or weaker than the first scripts?
STEP 7: Have the students approach the scene a third time using only action and no dialogue to tell the story. Remind students that stage directions are only to let the actors know what to do, not how to feel or what they think. (Good example: Bob crosses to table and picks up book. Bad example: Bob looked at her feeling betrayed, trying to remember the good times they once had together.) Stage directions like the bad example are prose not dramatic literature.
STEP 8: When the students are done, share some of the scenes with the class. Have actors review the actions, discuss briefly how they will perform them and then present the scene. Have the class discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the script. Stress that none of these approaches was more correct than the others, they are just different ways to approach a scene using dialogue and action to communicate a story. Hopefully each student has an idea of what type of scene intrigues them most as an audience and which appeals to them most as writers.
STEP 9: Practice: Assign each student to take one moment (a brief moment, no more than 30-60 seconds in length) from their script idea that they have developed and create two versions of it. Have them write that moment of the script out, using dialogue and action. Get students into partners and exchange scripts and read what their partner has written. Have each student give their partner new criteria for rewriting that moment (number of lines, number of words, actions only).
STEP 10: Have the playwright’s decide which version of the particular moment works best and, if time permits, have a few students share that moment with the rest of class.
STEP 11: Tell the students that a five page cutting of their script is due in two class periods. They should be working on creating a draft of their script. The five pages due do not need to be the first five pages, so they can focus on creating the moment they worked on for class in a more final format and building from there.
Students can be assessed on having created one moment of their script in two different ways. I usually check off this work and let them take the scripts with them.
Depending on how much time you give students to work on the various writing activities and how many scripts you share in front of the class, this lesson may extend into the next day.