First Assignment

Write brief descriptions, using the present tense, of two quite different main characters as they go about their lives. Be sure to choose characters that engage you and situations you know something about. End each description with an encounter or incident that would make for a change in the character's situation. Set up one synopsis as if for a short script in which you employ the journey structure, and the other for a screenplay in which you use the ritual occasion. At this point, don't concern yourself with plot, although if ideas occur to you, be sure to jot them down for possible later use. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate; we turned to the short films described above for inspiration:

1. A crack bicycle messenger travels about a large city at reckless speed, indifferent to pedestrians and unpleasant encounters with cab drivers as he makes his way, and impatient at his various delivery stops. Suddenly a car grazes him on a busy street and continues on without stopping as he and his bike go flying. Dazed and bleeding, he huddles on the sidewalk as an indifferent crowd rushes by. Eventually a pedestrian stops, picks up his mangled bicycle, and sits down next to him on the curb.

2. A nine-year-old girl lives with her bossy older brother and quarrelsome parents in a small suburban house. She stubbornly refuses to be drawn into the family's mealtime squabbles, hurrying away from the table as soon as she can to gaze out the window at the house next door, where a lively, cheerful family is having its dinner. Although the house is some distance away and she can't follow much of what is going on, she watches happily. Then one day, hunting for something in a closet, she comes upon a pair of powerful field glasses belonging to her father, and makes off with them.

This assignment may take several days and a number of drafts to complete. Because every assignment and exercise in this book is intended to lead to your writing an original screenplay, it will be worth your while to keep your notes, as well as any completed work, in a special folder.

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