The Creative Workout: Five writing exercises to use if the scene you’ve written is boring

The Creative Workout: Five writing exercises to use if the scene you’ve written is boring

By Phil Porter 28/10/14

You’ve got it down, there are words on the page, you’ve actually done some writing. But what if it’s just... not very good? The playwright Phil Porter gives us five simple exercises to sharpen up a scene...

1. Rewrite the scene using only lines of dialogue consisting of five words or fewer.

This should help you to see your characters’ intentions and the shape of the scene more clearly. It’ll also give the scene an injection of pace. Now write the scene once more, with as many words per line as you like, but using what you’ve learned.

2.     Spend two minutes listing all of the unanswered questions that the scene, as it stands, will provoke in the mind of your audience.

Then spend two minutes listing all of the facts or information that the scene provides. If it’s all answers and no questions that puts the audience in a very passive position; work to redress the balance.

3.     Try introducing a physical action to the scene. 

If your scene feels boring there’s a good chance it’s too static. What if they were flying a kite, unpacking a suitcase, dying their hair, fixing a puncture? This will give your audience something to look at and create opportunities for the characters to express themselves indirectly or subtextually. NB: Drinking wine and/or sitting on a park bench do not count as physical actions for the purpose of this exercise.

 4.     Go through your scene as an actor might.

Note down the character’s intention for each line: to punish, to beguile, to belittle, etc. If a character is stuck for too long with the same kind of intention this can get boring for an audience. Mix it up.

 5.     Get a friend to read the scene out loud to, or with you.

They don’t have to be actors. The problem with your scene will almost certainly become immediately apparent. In fact, it’ll probably become apparent just before you start reading as there is nothing like the feeling of anticipated humiliation to sharpen a writer’s senses.



The Christmas Truce by Phil Porter, directed by Erica Whyman is at the Royal Shakespeare Company from 29 November. For more information, visit the RSC website.


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Image by Isabelle Dow via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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