Sketch Out the Scene, If You Know What I Mean…

There is no greater joy than the craft of writing, stepping outside your comfort zone, and experimenting with a new story. It’s one of the best ways to grow as a writer.

Working on this SF novel for the past two years (with stops and starts due to other writing projects and life’s demands) has been far more challenging than my previous two novels (both of which were paranormal mysteries).

What’s makes it challenging you ask? You probably didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway—researching and staying true to science, keeping informed of advancements and theories in spacecraft propulsion, the latest exoplanet discoveries, and the changing landscape of space exploration (i.e. private companies like Space X taking over where NASA left off).

All of these come into play in my story. I’m on the first draft, working on what is, for now, chapter ten. The next scene I must write is an emotional goodbye between a husband and wife who, through events beyond their control, will never see each other again. The wife, a cosmologist and planetary scientist, is safely on Earth while her astronaut husband is about to die in space due to a catastrophe aboard his ship.

For this final conversation, I vacillated on which one should be the POV character. I pondered the scene for two days, until I had an epiphany this morning and identified the POV character (the husband). Over lunch, I sat down and quickly sketched out (blocked) the scene. Blocking requires minimal details, just a rough order of events and quick lines of dialogue that will all be fleshed out when you actually write the scene in your draft.

Some writers actually structure their blocking into categories (see March McCarron’s example here). For me, I already had the details of the setting, the situation, the tension, etc. I just needed to get my flowing thoughts on paper ASAP regarding the dialogue and the transition to the next scene.

After two handwritten pages of blocking, it all clicked perfectly. I jotted down several lines of dialogue that I had not thought of before—basically what their conversation will cover and the natural tension, fear, anxiety, and ultimate loss that will be imbued in their final words.

What’s more, I found a way to smoothly transition into the next scene where the husband and his pilot decide whether to die a slow death in space or go out in a blaze of glory. I don’t want to divulge details, of course, but sketching out a scene that I was not immediately certain how to approach was exceptionally helpful.

Even though I outline all of my stories before writing them, some scenes require a bit more thought and prep work than others. That’s where blocking can help provide direction, by allowing you to quickly experiment with a scene to find the best way to write it.

Here are some further resources about blocking scenes:

The Novel Writing Roadmap – Step 11: Blocking by the Novel Factory

Rough Out a Scene: Goals, DOs, DON’Ts, and the Writing by Darcy Pattison

Happy Writing!

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