Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reblocking = Rethinking

Once upon a time -- by which I mean last month -- I teched a play. One night, near the end of the run, an actor did something that made every techie watching the scene say, "Woah!" Because at the end of the scene where the couple fights, maybe the lights didn't dim quickly enough, maybe he needed more time in the wings, or maybe he just felt it, but the actor just got up and walked off stage.

Normally, blocking changes didn't freak us out so much. But this one had the effect of somehow altering the feel of the entire moment. At the end of the fight, instead of just staring at his wife until the lights dimmed, he just walked off. So, instead of their ending as some sort of truce, it looked like it had ended with his pretty much fed up.

This got me thinking. Somehow, with one change, it seemed like the actor had entirely changed the emotions of that one scene, which changed the manner in which he went into the following scene. So, in theory, with a single sentence, one could change a character's motivations, actions, and emotions.

When editing, consider every change, every new avenue to alter and shift the situation. It doesn't take much, not a whole scene, not a whole rewrite to alter the course of a character or plot arc. Just an action. Just a sentence. Just a single revision on your part.

Are you up to it?

How's your writing going? Any revising going on? What makes you think?


  1. As a matter of fact, I just did this -- and it sent me spinning to outer space.

    I had a scene, a crucial one, all written out and ready to go. But then, (because I wasn't sure enough about it) I asked myself, "what if, instead of that, we do this?"
    The characters didn't seem to care so I rewrote the scene.

    It threw off my whole way of thinking about the ending of the book. Needless to say, I put the original back. Sometimes we need to see how something works before we try something new.

  2. I've done this as well, and it was one of those aha moments where one minor change turns the whole scene on its side and really gets your juices flowing. Great stuff! :)

  3. So true, what may seem like a small change that doesn't take long to write down, can change the whole tenor of your work. My theory is that a great story is made up of X,000 perfect words in the perfect order. Every one of them counts.

  4. Very true. I just read Vanity Fair, and one of the critiquers at the end of the book pointed out one key scene--one brief action and spoken sentence--that was a sort of cornerstone that held the whole book together and made it work. The whole story could have been written with that character making a different gesture and using different words, and it would have made sense. But the story would not have had such power.

    I like scenes in which a character does something unexpected, yet not out of character. It's a fine line, but it's fun to play with.

    Also... congratulations to you and all the other NaNoWriMo winners! I have honored you with a silly post on The Magic Nutshell.


  5. Yes. And similarly, one sentence can usually be where I effed up and need to go back and revise!

  6. I agree with that. Words can definitely change the feel of a scene or the emotion of a character, after all stories are built upon words, words should be able to change them.


  7. Anne -- I concur. Sometimes you just need to see how the other thing would play out, whether you use it or not.

    DL -- It's always great when something just gets the juices going again, right?

    Melissa -- That is a most excellent theory.

    Genie -- Thanks for mentioning me. It's very sweet. :)

    Hanny -- Yes. One sentence can be just the one you need to nail, even if that takes revising. Thanks for

    xoxo -- Yes, words, as the building blocks of stories, can make and unmake them. So true.