Author Archives: Kim May

Everything I Needed To Learn About Blocking I Learned From Theater

Blocking. To actors that word mean three hours of standing around, listening to the director say “move a little downstage, now take a small step stage left…good…now cheat out…perfect!” and you have to remember it perfectly for the duration of the show’s run. But for writers it’s completely different. I mean, we can’t tell the characters to cheat out. The page doesn’t work that way. But in many ways, we are like the director and there are a lot of stage blocking techniques that do work well on the page.

Some of you are probably asking what exactly is blocking. The simplest definition is that blocking is the placement and movement of actors and props on stage. You can’t have everyone stand in a line for the entire play. It doesn’t look good and it’s pretty boring. The actors need to fill the space and move about it in a way that is interesting, purposeful, and appropriate to the scene. It’s the director’s responsibility to pretty much choreograph all of this (in addition to everything else they’re responsible for).

Whether there’s three characters in the scene or ten, everyone needs to be visible. It’s impossible for an actor to effectively deliver a line if multiple people are blocking them from view. How else are the audience going to know who is speaking?

How does that work for fiction when the reader can’t physically see the characters? Well, they can see them through the viewpoint character. When crafting a scene it’s our duty to be the director, to make sure that every character in that scene is visible to the POV character. If the POV character can’t see them then we can’t show the reader the supporting character’s expressions, movements, and gestures that can add necessary depth to the scene. The one benefit that writers have that theater directors don’t is that the audience can move with the viewpoint character and we don’t have to wait for scenery changes. If there’s something that needs to start in one room and finish in another, that’s easily done in a few sentences.

So if we have more flexibility than the stage, how can their tricks help us? Again, it’s all about visuals. Whether we’re aware of it or not, certain arrangements are more pleasing to the eye than others. The boring straight line I mentioned earlier? Unless you have a witness looking at a line up, I can’t think of another instance where it works. Why? Because it’s subconsciously awkward and/or dull. For a lot of people it brings back memories of waiting to be picked for a team, and for those that it doesn’t it has the feeling of waiting in line at the DMV. Heck, even in a line up scene it feels awkward but at least in that context it works. Also, lets be honest, in many situations not everyone is going to be standing in an orderly fashion. There’s going to be someone standing a little apart from the group, or someone sitting. There’s going to be some sort of variety and staggering and that’s enough to keep the body placement from putting your audience to sleep.

Another thing you can use blocking for is to facilitate and even highlight the climactic moment in a scene. This scene from Clue is a good example. (Yes, I know. It’s a film, not a play but it’s one of the best examples I know of.)

Obviously the big climactic moment in this is the falling chandelier. But how to make that happen without it looking intentional, and only endangering Col. Mustard? That’s where the blocking comes in. As soon as Wadsworth prepares to ram the door two characters get out of the way. They’re still near enough to be part of the scene and interject with a comment or two, but they also won’t impede anything — which is important given the amount of physical comedy that follows. Wadsworth’s writhing on the ground in pain, causing Yvette to trip over him and accidentally fire the gun is the clever solution to how to bring down the chandelier (without a Phantom). It also provides everyone in the line of fire something to react to — dramatically — and the physical comedy ensues. It’s funny, it builds tension, it solves minor plot problems, and sets up the release at the end that punctuates the joke, that is Col. Mustard’s line “I can’t take any more scares.” The dialogue isn’t much. It’s all pretty plain and standard for the most part. It’s pretty much the blocking that facilitates every part of the scene.

Blocking isn’t that scary. If you take the time to take a long, hard look at your scenes, can be another useful tool in your artistic arsenal. Taking the time to study its finer points and mastering how to use it will make a big difference in the efficacy of your writing.

Obstacles May Be Closer Than They Appear

One of the first pieces of writing advice I ever received was that if you want it to be your occupation, you need to treat it as a business. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a business plan — though it doesn’t hurt — but you do have to set regular working hours, make goals, and keep them. Part of that, especially when self-publishing, is to set a publishing schedule and to stick to it. However, sometimes keeping that schedule is not always possible.

I do realize that there has been a great deal of discussion about publishing delays lately, and I’m not going to give any opinions on someone else’s schedule. It’s none of my business whether or not (insert name of big author) is publishing a book this year, next year, or at all. The only person whose publication schedule I can comment on with any authority is my own and as it so happens I’ve had to make some difficult choices of my own.

Knowing that my debut novel was launching last June, I started writing the next book in the series at a writing retreat the month before. I managed to write the first third that week and figured that at my normal pace, I could probably finish it by the end of the summer, October by the latest. That would have given my beta readers plenty of time to read it, and time for me to put together a short story collection (and possibly release it in the spring). It was also plenty of time for revisions so I could release book 2 in the summer. Well, we ended up being really busy and short handed at the day job over the summer and that left me too exhausted to get much done on the book. It took me the entire summer to write two chapters. That’s it. That’s all I got done.

As far as progress goes that’s dismal. However, I’m not going to feel guilty about it. I did get something done and it was impossible for me to do more. All of this meant that I had two choices. If I wanted to finish on schedule, I’d pretty much have to work myself to death for eight months. The other option was to put off the short story collection for another year, and postpone the novel release until sometime in 2019. It seems pretty straight forward as far as decisions go but what of the fans? There are people eagerly awaiting the next Oneiroi War book. Plus there’s the reader anxiety that seems to pop up these days anytime an author talks about a delay. On the other hand, I really don’t want to work myself to death for that long. It’s not healthy and the extra pressure would probably cause me to hate the book in the end because of what I had to go through to complete it.

I really don’t want to work myself to death and I don’t want to hate the book (because it’s really awesome) so I chose the latter but I do still feel bad about it — which is a bit insane. I shouldn’t feel guilty for putting my health and wellbeing first but letting down my fans still isn’t something that I wanted to do. It certainly isn’t something that I want to do lightly or make a habit of.

So what does all of this have to do with making goals? I think one thing that often is forgotten is that when setting goals it’s impossible to plan for every contingency. Yes, we can definitely keep our goals realistic, but that still isn’t going to prepare us — or our readers — for when things go sideways. When they do go sideways, it’s important to reassess the situation, and adjust the goal accordingly. Most importantly, it’s important not to see it as a failure; especially if circumstances were out of your control and you did your best in spite of it. After all, a goal is not a promise or a contract. It’s a determination to attain. The goal is still attainable…it’ll just take a bit longer than you originally planned and that’s okay.


Year in Review

Oh boy. Do I really want to go over the entirety of my journey? Can’t I just brush it aside and forget it ever happened?

Well…no. There were some really good things this year. Things like the release of my first novel, getting into the Epic Fantasy Storybundle, my Monster Hunter Files story being well received. There have been a a lot of really great things this year for me as an author. But what I mostly remember about this year was my failure to accomplish my main goal — take better care of myself.

I won’t go into a tale of personal woe. The short of it is that this year did not go as planned and it was all around much harder to find the time and energy to get anything done that I wanted or needed to. I think the only thing that did go as planned was that I learned how to use Dragon and that with my acupuncturist’s help my arthritis pain is the lowest it’s been in years. Too bad the rest of my life isn’t falling into line. But there is still hope for next year. Onward and upward, right?

Don’t Panic!

Today’s post is in scream-o-vision. When you see the prompt (Scream) you should scream — especially if you’re in a public place. Librarians are particularly fond of scream-o-vision. Enjoy.



This is the time that many NaNo writers dread. The month is 2/3 gone, and for one reason or another you’ve fallen behind. You’ve got 20K (or more) to write still, all your friends are at least 15K ahead of you, and just thinking about how you’re going to catch up is giving you a panic attack. The Final Countdown is playing through your head (and if it wasn’t it certainly is now). Plus, in the US we have the worst complication. Dare I say it?


(Dare! Dare!)


Thanksgiving is coming!



The family is coming over in three days, you haven’t cleaned since before Halloween, you haven’t even bought the turkey (let alone started thawing it), and the idea of serving your family frozen pot pies instead of a Norman Rockwell feast is looking better and better.



If this sounds like you then I want you to do something. Take a deep breath and DON’T PANIC! There are some things you can do that can help you salvage NaNo:

  1. The first thing to do is to not rage quit. If you give up now then it’s guaranteed that you won’t win NaNo. If you stick with it you might surprise yourself with what you can do.
  2. Look on the bright side! You have (insert word count) words that you didn’t have before. A lot of people who dream of writing a book never make it as far as you have and you totally deserve a button for that. Whether you reach the 50K mark or not, that’s something that you can still be proud of.
  3. Totally do the pot pie dinner. That’s at least 6 hours of cooking time that you’re eliminating — time that you can spend writing. Or if you don’t want your mother-in-law to accuse you of dialing it in for the rest of your life, serve turkey burgers, sweet potato fries, and a store bought pumpkin pie with the words “It’s NaNoWriMo. Be happy it wasn’t frozen pot pies.” written in frosting on the top.
  4. Get a massage. Yes, it’s lost writing time but it’s not unproductive time. You can think about the next scene or about entertaining conversations your characters might have. Once the massage is over — and you really needed the stress relief — the words can flow easily.

Did you find this helpful? Great! Soon you’ll be back on the metaphorical road to success. If you didn’t, at least you got to relieve some of the tension by screaming. See? You feel better already. All of those mental stress knots are loosening and you can go sit down and crank out another 2K words today.



Now go write!