Saturday, July 16, 2016

Blocking a Scene and Writer's Block: Two Different Concepts

I read lots of blogs about how-to-write, although I’m not sure any of it’s penetrating my thick skull. 
One thing I hardly ever see is discussions about blocking for prose novelists. Screenwriters and playwrights and gamesmiths have to worry about blocking all the time, but literary types can often avoid it entirely.

Right now, I’m wrestling with a scene that takes place on my intrepid racing catamaran, the Reckless. The captain, recently awakened in the middle of the early morning, is yawning in the salon with teenage hero and his love interest. Two bad guys enter. Two more bad guys are about to arrive for a confrontation with the captain and the kids, not realizing the other bad guys are already there.

A more literary-type novelist might be concerned with themes of masculinity juxtaposed with fishing, or whether there are any white whales in the vicinity. I’m more concerned with things like

(a) Where are the explosives?
(b) Are there any weapons within arm’s reach, and whose arms are near them?
(c) Is the center of gravity of character X distributed in such a way that an errant kick might knock them into the drink?
(d) Are there guns, and if so, are we talking traditional combustion-based handguns or might I whip out one of my colorful Buck Rogers blasters?
(e) Which characters can die in this scene without affecting future plot twists?
(f) Should the pre-fight taunting center around sexuality, looks or competence?
(g) Is anybody live streaming this?
(h) Who deserves a Great Big Badass Hero moment, and how is that going to happen?
(i) So how much gore am I going to show? Traumatic brain injury? Compound fracture? Splattered on the ocean surface, and if so, are there any sharks nearby?
(j) How many millions of dollars worth of spectacular property destruction might result from this interaction?
(k) Is help nearby, and from which direction would they approach?  Can they get there in time to stop whatever I'm contemplating happening?
(l) And the main blocking question, exactly where is everybody standing, and what are they doing, in order for all this to occur?  Because a catamaran salon isn’t all that big, and seven people can make it quite crowded.

When I’m wrestling with blocking, the story can grind to a halt in a way totally different than when 
I’m struggling with dialogue or description or greater themes.  I have to figure out how long actions would take, and whether any overlapping actions could occur in that time frame. I need to think about everyone in the scene, and whether they’re motivated or capable enough to change the outcome. 

Even the weather must be taken into consideration. Have I been referring to rain continually over the last few paragraphs?  Well I guess the deck is slippery, and since I’ve loaded Chekov’s gun I might as well have somebody go skidding at a crucial moment. 

(And no, I haven’t forgotten that Chekov’s gun I left lying around in the first book, I’m about to fire it.)

Blocking block is a little different from writer's block. Being unsure how to write something isn't quite like being unsure what to write, or even whether to write. I finally threw up my hands and ran off to watch a movie that I've already seen. (Inglorious Basterds, because I wanted to see Hans Landa again -- such an amazing villain.)

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