Have you ever read a fight or struggle in a book and had to look over the words three or four times because the physical movements depicted just weren’t possible? I started a book Tuesday, but I can’t get past the first chapter. It opens with a young man being chased through the woods. The bad guy catches him, knocks him down, grabs both his hands AND his hair, and with one hand, binds the struggling young man’s wrists with rope. Go ahead, try tying something into a knot with just one hand. We’ll wait. Hard, wasn’t it? Now imagine trying to do that while whatever you’re tying is trying to escape you. The impossibility of this feat bounced me out of the story. I understand the author was trying to create tension and fear, but she wasn’t careful. She could have used another beta reader, perhaps. Or she could have tried blocking the scene.
Blocking is a theater term, and refers to the way actors move and position themselves on stage during performance. I learned about blocking when I took Drama 201 my first semester of college. I’d dabbled in theater in high school, although I knew it wasn’t my strength, but I figured it would be an entertaining and somewhat easy elective to try. The husband and wife team of teachers were artsy and freaky and fun, just what you expect from a drama class. When the semester ended, I left theater to those better suited and focused on my major. I never thought I’d use those theatrical skills again.
You see, when I’m writing, I see the scene in my head, like a movie, and I try to write as fast as the movie is playing. It doesn’t always work, though, and I end up with scenes that are … lacking. Especially fight scenes. When I read what I’ve put on paper, I sometimes realize the people in the scene would need three arms, two sets of teeth and about seven legs each in order to accomplish all the moves I’d attributed to them. Oops. Trouble is, I can’t always see where I’ve gone wrong. The first time it happened to me, I remembered that old Drama 201 technique of blocking, and called my husband to the room. I read the sentences out loud, and slowly we acted out the fight. Moving through the words physically allowed me to see when I’d gone wrong. It was a revelation! Later on, I made my husband and son work out the scenes for me while I watched. I even convinced my beloved spouse to jump off the roof of our SUV so I could see what it looked like when someone landed and rolled.
So here’s my question for all of you wonderful Magical Words readers…what skill that’s not actually a writing skill have you used to help your writing be clearer, make more sense or just flow?