Find Scene Inspiration in Four Easy Steps! Guaranteed!

Turning inspiration, form a monologue or Harold opening, into a scene is a critical skill for a long form player. Young players struggle both in finding inspiration within a monologue and in how to start a scene based on whatever they find. Their scenes either look just like monologue or are a wild mess. It’s a difficult thing to teach because, like when to edit, it’s subjective with no firm answers. It’s a lot of black magic; experienced players just kind of know how to do it without thinking about it. The answers given to students about how to pull and use inspiration have a sharp undertone of “You can only learn it by doing it.”


This post lays out a thought process for distilling themes and finding characters from monologues. I’m careful when I teach it; I’d rather my players be present in the show and not be doing math on the side lines. I’ll introduce this concept in class, do some exercises that use it explicitly but I always remind the student that the audience (and myself) won’t be judging them on their inspirations but on how well the scenes are played. However a player gets their inspiration, whatever technique they use to cook it, it is the scene that occurs onstage that is most important.


Step one: identify your inspiration (in one or two lines, what did you find cool or funny?) Step two: find a theme by divorcing the specific details and replacing them with increasingly general concepts. Step three: attach new specifics to the distilled themes. Step four: take on a point of view from the new situation and generate a first line of dialog. Here’s an example:


A player gives a monologue about a trip to Disney World, full of wonderful details and colorful descriptors. One part of the story includes the teller mistakenly thinking that they see a costumed Goofy giving drugs to kids.


Step 1, Identify inspiration -> Disney’s Goofy giving drugs to children.


Step 2, Divorce specifics -> Disney’s Goofy giving bad things to children.


Divorce specifics -> An animated children’s character giving bad things to children.


Divorce specifics -> A trusted children’s character giving bad things to children.


Divorce specifics -> A person a child trusts giving bad things to them.


Divorce specifics -> A person a child trusts putting them in danger.


Step 3, Add new specifics -> (A ton of options here, this is an example) Half-drunk Unlce Gary asking his 14 year-old nephew to drive him to dialysis.


Step 4, What’s the first line? -> “Stevie, it’s time to learn to drive.  Your uncle’s a couple of beers down and has to go to dialysis.”


We have found a scene that was inspired by the monologue, has clear points of view, and an absurd/reasonable frustration game opportunity, yet looks nothing like the monologue. I’ve had success teaching this. Students quickly acquire an innate feel for it even if they never follow the steps in their brains. Do my particular specifics and first line constitute a fairly heavy lay-on? Yes. Sue me. Could you pull out something smaller and less assuming? Sure. What kind of show are you in?


(Seriously, what kind of show are you in? That will tell you how aggressivly to play.)