The Playground Experience—if you read the ‘About Kelly’ page on my website, you probably saw this term when I described how writing fan fiction gave me the ‘playground experience.’ What does that mean?
Every scene contains one or more of the following:
Scene Setting (or simply Description)
Narration (or internal thought/conflict)
Each of these must be mastered before further investment in the craft. Once a writer knows his own style of writing these parts of a scene, he will find it easy to write any kind of scene.
There are several kinds of scenes every writer must be able to write regardless of what they’re writing–especially when they’re working with fiction. These are examples:
- Characters are trying to communicate but cannot use verbalization
- Characters in the dark
- From a blind or deaf character’s POV
- Outright chaos with comedy
- Courtroom scene
- A political scene
- A fight scene
- Hospital scene
- An interrogation scene
- Negotiation scene
- Chase scene
- Battle scene
- Death scene
These are only a few examples. There are countless others, and as you begin to practice, you will realize what you need to write next.
“Must I learn each kind of scene? Is it really that important?” In the end, it is up to you, the Writer, but consider this: what if you had the ability to learn any skill in the world in an instant? Let’s say, your buddy and you are being chased by the bad guys for some reason, and you climb to the top of a building and find a helicopter. Now you’ve never flown a helicopter before, but somehow you know how to fly it, so you both get in and fly away to safety.
That would be cool, wouldn’t it? Unrealistic but awesome (sounds like something from the films ‘The Matrix’).
That is what it is like when you don’t practice those different styles of scenes. You might be writing a fluffy romantic chick-flick when suddenly the police mistake your male protagonist as a wanted criminal, and he has to make a run for it, or else he’ll be late for his own wedding! If all you’ve written your entire life has been witty dialogue, flirtatious friction, and love triangles, how comfortable and confident will you be writing a chase scene?
“Okay, so, if I were to practice, how do I do it? I don’t have time to just write extra scenes I’m not going to use!” Well, there’s an easy way and a hard way, and of course, there’s always a catch.
EASY WAY: Fan fiction—write stories where you don’t have to worry about the backstory, or making up characters, or choosing a location or conflict for your story. Fan fiction is based on movies, books, plays, cartoons, comics, TV shows, and so forth. There are crossovers like “What if Indiana Jones met the Tomb Raider?” We’ll probably never see that in film, so we write it. Go to www.fanfiction.net for a massive library of stories writers of all ages, beginners and veterans have written. It’s free to read, free to post, and it’s free to give (and get) feedback on the stories.
When writing fan fiction, you expand your horizon and stretch your writing muscles. And the best part? You don’t even realize how much you’re writing and what exactly you’re practicing because you’re having too much fun writing the story.
With fan fiction, there is no pressure of editors, publishers, or even readers. You’re writing for yourself because you know no one else will ever think of the same storyline you did for the story. Due to the lack of such pressure, you can actually enjoy what you’re writing and not worry! Since you can’t publish it for profit because it’s not your property, the least you can do is share it with fellow fans, who are crazy about the same fandom.
The Catch: Despite all the time you put into these stories, you can never make profit off them. All you can do is share them for free online. You might think this is a waste of time, but consider the alternative—the Hard Way.
HARD WAY: Keeping in mind the list of different kinds of scenes, you can outline them, organize them, and then write them. If you can write them in connection with each other as a story, great, but the likelihood of that happening is thin.
The Catch: You will simply need the self-discipline to practice each scene whether or not it fits into your current story. Refine it? No—but at least you’ve had the experience.
Ideally you wouldn’t be working on a piece to publish during the Playground Experience. That would be like bringing your laptop to the park. You can’t have fun and work at the same time unless you’ve got a bluetooth in your ear and can talk to clients while chasing your kid around the park and not sounding distracted to the person on the line.
I’ve heard it suggested that writers should view their craft as seriously as doctors view their skill. It takes at least five (ten?) years for doctors to get their degree, so we should have the same mindset. That’s what BFA and MFA programs are for, right? I disagree. At the root of this suggestion is a very good and key idea, but it should not be limited to college level students or adults. That is the worst time for the Playground Experience because on top of all your Creative Writing classes and workshops, you have other classes, a job, and maybe a family you need to support. You don’t have time to write for ‘practice’!
The Playground Experience is perfect for younger writers. I experienced it when I was twelve and don’t really know when it ended—maybe around seventeen or eighteen. I didn’t have a job to worry about or a family to support. School homework kept me busy, but it wasn’t as pressing as college homework later on. So, if you’re young, dive into the Playground Experience.
“But I’m older! I just went back to school. I’m a single mom with three kids! What am I supposed to do?” To be honest, I admire any parent who manages to write—especially with younger children. It’s going to be difficult for you, but you need to set aside ten to fifteen minutes a day to write. Don’t worry about writing the next bestseller. Take these short snippets of time to practice the craft, and when your story comes to you, you will be ready to write it. If you can do this while in school, that’s great, but you simply might not have the time to escape long enough to write. If that’s the case, wait until the semester is finished, and then start your Playground Experience.
If you’re single, have a steady job, and want to write but don’t know where to start, this is a good place.
It’s different but it’s necessary for everyone!