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Scene Exercise

With vivid, descriptive prose that appeals to the five senses, dramatize a scene of 1,000-1,250 words (4-5 double-spaced pages). By dramatize, I don’t mean create life or death situations. I mean simply that the scene should be set in time and place, with characters and actions. This is an exercise in what’s commonly (sometimes constantly) referred to as “show, don’t tell,” though that’s not a wholly accurate phrase; good storytelling is always a combination of showing and telling. But for our purposes in a beginning fiction class, with this first exercise, it’s important to learn dramatization by setting your stories in the physical world so that the reader can experience through imagination the characters and events of the story. Tell me a character is sad, I understand. But “sad” is an abstraction, subjectively interpreted by the storyteller. The only way I can really understand any specific “sad” is by seeing it expressed physically. Then I’ll feel sad too, which is a form of experience, which is why we read fiction. Consider a play: How does the audience know if a character is sad. The actor has to express it through his actions (shuffling walk) and dialogue (“Go ahead, I don’t feel like it.”), the designer through setting (unmade bed, half-dark room), the costume designer through dress (thin jacket, untied shoelaces). If a character on stage touches something hot, how can the audience know unless he reacts physically. That’s the essence of dramatization: telling a story (or writing a scene) through concrete details that put us by means of our imaginations directly into the skin of the character(s). This must be done in the physical world. “Sad” is just an idea. A father’s little daughter with her arm in a cast is real. So it’s critical to include sensual details that engage the reader’s imagination. Make the scene felt, not just understood.