If (for those of you in the northern hemisphere) your creative mojo is a little rusty after the long Summer vacation, here’s an idea that might invite some story and plot development to get you back into the groove for the new academic year.

The following scenario is one I’ve occasionally loaned to students during my time teaching film and media studies; it seems to help those suffering from a bit of writer’s block. This is an account of an incident I actually I witnessed while on a break from teaching at a school in Queens Gate, London in the late 1990’s. As I’ve always encouraged my students to create their work on the basis of personal experience, and to keep a notepad of incidents which they witness, I’m practicing what I advise, and am not just trying to be provocative.

This particular incident had powerful resonances for me at that time as I was interested in exploring how one could make ideas of Fabula and Syhuzet relevant and significant to my students. Russian critical approaches to narrative, concepts which roughly equate plot and story.

My particular interest were starting points, the sequencing of events represented and how much could be inferred rather than explicitly shown to make one’s intentions clear. All vital considerations in making a short movie.

Okay so here it is.

The event I witnessed was of an middle aged, middle class man, dressed head to foot in Burberry (in my mind a German or Swiss Businessman). I spotted this man in a public telephone box casually selecting from the prostitutes promotional postcards which decorated most phone boxes in the prosperous areas of central London at that time. He did this quite unselfconsciously as if selecting postcards at a souvenir shop.

For me this was an extraordinary opportunity for story construction, the incident led me to all sorts of speculation about this character; was this habitual behaviour for him? What might have brought him to this? And, what might be the consequences of pursuing one of the contacts he found?

From a filmic point of view, would this have been the beginning middle or the end of a plot? And, how could one sequence a plot to locate this scene with the same force of the intrigue I felt in witnessing the actual event? What sequence of events might have motivated his behaviour? Should these be made explicit or inferred? And what perspective could the story be told from?

All of this could be explored through the use of Fabula and Syhuzet, (There is a particularly good explanation of these in relation to Psycho [Hitchcock US 1960] in the Media Students Book published  by Routledge).

This incident may function in a similar way to the The Shower scene in Psycho functions, where the audience is moved abruptly from one story (a red herring) to another, from the generic assumptions of Marion Crane’s story to the far more disturbing core of the film which is actually an account of Norman’s discovery and incerceration.

Moving this a stage further, themes and ideas could be explored in the representations evident in resolution/irresolution of the plot. These are all ideas which can be extrapolated into the analysis of set film texts.

Anyhow, what would you put into a screenplay inspired by such events?