Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Scene blocking

by Rick Blechta

A good reason to use paper slips for moving characters!
Something came up in the past few days with my novel-in-progress and I want to share a little trick I was taught years ago by a director of stage productions. I’d forgotten all about it since I normally don’t write action scenes with large numbers of characters doing critically important small movements. I’d sort of forgotten it in the intervening time.

The director had read the ms for one of my novels (When Hell Freezes Over) and our conversation started with something like, “You know, the climactic scene at the end made no sense to me. In fact, it was impossible the way you’ve written it.”

My response was probably something exceptionally erudite like, “Huh?”

“You need to block your scenes. It was obvious you didn’t do that. Your characters were in the wrong places to do the things they needed to do.”

As soon as I got back home, I ripped open the binder filled with my copy of the draft I’d shared with my friend, and found, damn it all, that he was completely correct.

The little trick Tom (my director/friend’s name) taught me was to write the characters’ names on little sheets of paper, draw a simple floor plan of the space where the scene is taking place on another sheet of paper and put the characters in position on the floor plan. If I wished to describe something in the room, a door or window or desk for instance, I should also add those to the floor plan if they’re fixed throughout the scene, and if they were to be moved (well, not windows and doors), then put them on a slip of paper too, so they could be moved.

“This is what probably every director does in some form or other when blocking a scene. Your memory is fallible. Don’t rely on it!”

So, back to the drawing board yesterday using Tom’s trick and I soon realized I was about to fall into the same trap I had back in the story on which he was reading and commenting.

I’ve now got a large sheet of paper, many slips of paper and I’m rewriting the scene, moving everyone around to make sure it’s all workable. A side benefit is that it really makes things come alive and several good ideas have been the result of that.

My only problem was that my wife used the table last night while I was out at a rehearsal. When I got home, everything was neatly piled on the desk in my studio.

Fortunately I had actually used my noodle for once and taken a photo of my blocking diagram with my mobile phone. Otherwise, I would be one frustrated author right now.

So thank you again to Tom (wherever you are).

To the rest of you, feel free to take advantage of my hard-won knowledge.

2 comments:

Sybil Johnson said...

Great idea. I draw floorplans of some of my locations so I can visualize them better but never thought of blocking out action scenes like this.

Rick Blechta said...

I only do it for scenes where I'm wrangling, say, five or more characters simply because it helps me keep track of them. Same with things like chairs, the odd desk, or possibly weapons (who's holding what).