The 7 Scene Shuffle: an exercise for blocked writers

“I’ve got my characters, and I’ve got some cool ideas — but I don’t have a story!”
This might have been all of us at one point or another. The kiss of death…

by Jade Fisher

No story? Brother, you’ve got nothing to write… you’re left staring at the screen or shuffling through all those rough notes waiting for el Plot. Paralysed.

But what if those handful of characters and scene ideas in themselves were enough?

… At least enough to get started.

Kubrick had an idea for writing original features. Write seven solid scenes. Write them well, develop characters and situations in those moments – and link them however you like. Presto. Feature.

What about logic? What about causal links and the cumulative progression of plot points? What about structure?

In this exercise they do not feature.

You might surprise yourself. Very often an elusive plot becomes self evident, slight adjustments can reveal underlying story lines or suddenly drive the whole idea in a new direction. The story is in there, somewhere.

If you’re not writing because of an obstacle, remove the obstacle. The writer has the power to write in any direction they please. If convention is blocking you, write around it and come back. The process doesn’t have to be a straight line, even if conventional plot structure does.

Even single images can be powerful. Collect those visual scenarios that fit nowhere but won’t go away. ‘Fernando goes into the butcher and rubs himself all over the meat’. ‘The bride staggers through the ghetto streets and collapses’.

Dialogue especially can be the key that not only unlocks characters, but also informs story. If you have lines bouncing around with nowhere to live, put them up in a small scene of their own. You never know, the seed you plant there could grow into something truly worthy.

This exercise is not unlike the ‘cut up’ poetry of the Beats. Cutting up other works with scissors and rearranging the words to make new poems. It takes something that exists in one form and rearranges it until it is completely new…

Once you have your seven scenes, your characters, moments, images, sounds and scenarios — the writing fun starts. Link them. Anyway you can. Find a common ground for this straggling group and tweak until it makes ‘sense’. Sometimes six characters become two. Sometimes the lunar base and the runaway train become a farmhouse.

Spielberg said of Kubrick that he “tells a story antithetical to the way we are accustomed to receiving stories” But we listen.

The pith of the argument being: sometimes the writing process doesn’t have to be the 2nd circle of hell — take chances with convention, find use for your ideas and keep writing…

-Jade Fisher

I come to screenwriting from a poetry background with a BCA in Creative Writing. I’ve travelled, worked as a cinema projectionist, studied photography, massage therapy, anatomy and am finally learning (& making) my true love, film.

I’m currently interested in developing a linear narrative theory that combines the way story operates in heroic myth with the way it behaves in dreams — where plot structure exists without causal links.

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