There is a difference between sketch writing and scene writing. Sketch is something that looks easy, and sounds easy because of its entertainment value. But in reality sketch is a complicated rhythmic exercise. Sketch has to be fast and funny, which is hard. When sketch goes on too long, it can be excruciating to watch. Long and un-funny is way easier to do than fast and funny. And it can’t be too fast either or you lose the funny.
Sketch is a moment, an action, a flash of light, a TADA! Sketch is a punch, a breath in and out. It’s not my forte because I’m always looking for what’s happening beyond the breath. That’s dangerous with sketch, that’s when sketch gets long and loses it’s punch. A scene, which is what I do excell at, works in fragments of a fuller picture. Even if you only see a section of someone’s life or a fragment of story, there’s always the sense that something is happening beyond that fragment. Scenes fail when that outer world isn’t thought out.
Here’s how I turned something I was working on this week for Oddball from a sketch into a scene.
In my research I came across a small article on odd accidents at Christmas time: testing batteries with your tongue, eating oranments that were thought to be chocolate. And I get a picture of a sad sack family in the emergency room on Christmas Day with everyone having a bizarre accident, one after the other. That’s the start. I have an intial instinct that it’ll be a fast in and out moment, which I am looking for with the play to vary the pace of the overall big picture.
So I take a first pass at this, and I get the sad family, maybe an uber irritated mom, and an overly cheerful nurse and it’s ok. There’s a nice line build with irritated mom, that’s working. The reveal of how the accidents happen is ok, it’s sort of funny. But then what? What’s the end, the punch? There’s no TADA, and it’s too long. I could take out some of the accidents, but there’s still no TADA. Hmmm.
What I really like about the writing is irritated mom. I want to know more about her (this sentence right there says everything about why I’m not a sketch writer, I always want to know more about everybody!) Who is she? Why so irritated? What was the situation leading up to the odd accidents? What makes the situation important? THAT is very important in scene writing: who is the person at the centre of the situation and what makes the situation important? What if the mom was a martha stewart type?
And THAT makes me go Ooooooooh (which is always better than Hmmm). What if the mom hosts the hardest, most recognized Christmas party of the year (I’m still thinking the Christmas thing is good. It gives the nurse a reason to be super perky, but maybe it’s better if she’s stone faced until she figures out who the mom is. Then Christmas doesn’t matter. I may have to write it both ways. ) and it’s very hard to get into, only a select few are invited each year and this is the first year a reporter’s coming to the party. Who sees the party as a complete disaster.
NOW there’s a importance to the situation, and a really good reason for the mom to be uber irritated. Now it’s a scene instead of a sketch.