Ever since the first public school in America was established in 1635 by the Puritans, there is one thing that students can always count on hearing when they return to the classroom after three months off: “Write an essay titled ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’.”
Did it involve a temp job to earn extra money? Summer school to acquire extra credits? A trip to a foreign country to appreciate different cultures? A favor spot on the beach to build a tan? Maybe those three months were even used for reinvention. (The summer before I started high school, for instance, I got my braces off, had my hair cut shorter, changed my whole wardrobe, and decided to henceforth be called by my first name instead of my middle one. I did, however, forego the temptation to start talking with an English accent. Suffice it to say, a third of my classmates from 8th grade didn’t recognize me.) The screenwriting exercises this month explore how a variety of real and fictitious individuals spent their summer break.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. What’s the best summer vacation you’ve had so far? What made it so memorable?
2. What’s the worst summer vacation you’ve ever had? What made it so horrible?
3. Would you rather take three long weekend trips during the summer or a single vacation that lasts three weeks? Why?
4. If money were no object and you could spend your next summer vacation anywhere, where would you go and why?
5. Have you ever gone to summer school or worked a job while your friends were off having fun? If so, what did you like about this experience? What did you hate about it?
6. How would you define the perfect vacation?
7. What are three things you never leave home without when you go on vacation?
8. Who would you most want to spend a vacation with (1) on a camping trip, (2) at an amusement park, (3) in a foreign country, (4) on a cross-country road trip?
A SIGNATURE SUMMER
It was a sticky hot day in 1776 when delegates to the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to finalize a document that would declare and articulately define America’s freedom thereafter from British rule. Two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence have the distinction of being the oldest and youngest gentlemen in the room – Benjamin Franklin at age 70 and Edward Rutledge at age 26.
Your assignment: Thanks to the magic of time travel, Franklin and Rutledge have been invited to appear on a popular talk show of your choice. Write a three page scene that reflects (1) the generation gap of this pair’s recollections of that historic day and (2) the host’s persistence to get the insider scoop.
ONE UPSMANSHIP ON MT. OLYMPUS
Oh those fun-loving gods and goddesses of Greek mythology! Not only do they enjoy meddling in the lives of mere mortals but they each possess an arsenal of awesome powers and talents that they just can’t seem to resist bragging about at every opportunity in order to outshine one another.
Your assignment: It’s the first day back at work after a long summer and the gods and goddess are assembling in the Mt. Olympus conference room to boast about their accomplishments. Using Bulfinch’s Mythology or an online reference such as http://www.mythweb.com, select four of these mythological beings and write a 3-4 page scene in which they attempt to impress their board chairman, the mighty Zeus.
“YOU SAID WE WERE ON A BREAK”
The lazy, laid-back freedom of vacationing someplace new has often provided the backdrop for an unexpected romance. In this case, Shakespeare’s Capulets have decided that their daughter Juliet is way too besotted with that neighborhood upstart, Romeo, and that no good can come of these star-crossed kids spending the summer together in Verona. On the last day of school, they pack her off to Geneva to stay with relatives. She isn’t there more than a week when she meets a cute guy who charmingly dislodges all thoughts of Romeo from her head.
Your assignment: It’s the day before Juliet is supposed to go back home to Verona. In a three-page scene with her cousin, Monica, explore Juliet’s angst about whether she should forget the new guy and return to her boyfriend, break up with Romeo, or tell Romeo she’s confused.
THE TOWN THAT TECHNOLOGY FORGOT
The protagonist of your new movie had the summer all figured out – watching movies, surfing the Internet, going to the mall, playing video games, hanging out with friends, eating junk food. His/her parents, however, decided this would be a “family summer” and, further, that it would be spent in a small town on the other side of the country – a town that has no cell phone service, no Internet, no cable television, no mass transit, and no shopping malls. What the town does have, however, is A Big Secret that has served to effectively keep it off the grid for over a hundred years.
Your assignment: Write a one-page film synopsis that identifies the main characters in the story, what the secret is, how the secret impacts the protagonist’s life during the three-month stay, and how it all works out.
LET ME TELL IT MY WAY
Hansel and Gretel, the offspring of a hen-pecked woodcutter, have always been competitive with one another and certainly their respective styles of storytelling are no exception. Hansel is the wildly creative one and tends to exaggerate even the simplest events. Gretel – while she always sticks to the truth – tends to imbue her stories with so much detail that it would probably take her three days to talk about a trip to the grocery store. They also interrupt each other a lot.
Your assignment: This sibling pair has had an unusual summer to be sure and they are invited by their teacher to give a joint presentation to their classmates. Write a 2-3 page scene of how this presentation unfolds.
A MATCHMAKER’S JOB IS NEVER DONE
When your favorite hobby is all about finding the perfect sweethearts for your unattached friends, there’s simply no time to go on holiday. For Jane Austen’s Emma, it has been quite the successful summer of matchmaking and she can’t wait to tell her gal pals about the happy engagements she has orchestrated.
Your assignment: Emma and three of her friends have gone to the seashore. As she talks about the couples she has brought together, her trio of listeners begin to share their own wish lists of the ideal soul mate. The twist in the 3-4 page scene you will write is that the lads who have caused the hearts of these Regency-era young ladies to do flip-flops are all modern-day celebrities.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 144 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.