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How to Write a Novel

Step Eleven: Blocking a rough outline

Scene Blocking

You’re nearly ready to start your first draft, and you’re probably itching to get started, but there’s just one more step to complete first – Scene Blocking.

This is basically a rough outline, describing everything that happens in each scene from beginning to end. It should include every action, rough descriptions of what the characters do, what they say (don’t bother putting in speech marks) and where they go.

It should not be written in a prose form, or include detailed descriptions, and don’t worry about how rough and riddled with repetitive phrases or clichés it is, you’ll tidy all that up in your drafts.

The point of this is to ‘watch the movie of your story’, to consolidate the visuals you have, without getting constantly bogged down by using the nicest word or coming up with a clever metaphor.

At this point, keep referring to your notes on characters, locations and plot points to make sure everything is woven in, however bluntly.

It’s useful to write the blocking in the present tense – like stage directions – to keep reminding yourself you’re not writing prose.

The blocking for a given scene should probably be in the region of about 100-500 words and should include all the critical details that need to go into that scene. This isn't a strict limit and you may want to write longer sections of blocking.

However if your blocking is getting significantly longer, perhaps you're writing in too much detail, or perhaps you've simply got too much happening all in one scene and could consider splitting the scene into two. The blocking needs to be simple and succinct; it's going to be your main reference while writing to ensure your scene sticks to the plot.

Example Blocking:

Here's an example of the blocking for a scene, just to give you an idea of the kind of things that should be in there...

Lorelei is in the Head’s office, thinking: just don’t do anything to make it worse. There is a sapling on the chair beside her. The chair is uncomfortable and she shifts and wriggles.

The Head is most unimpressed and tells her that she’s had many complaints about this constant daydreaming and living in a fantasy world, reading silly stories, and this appears to prove her disconnection from reality.

Lorelei thinks about how she was trying to impress the art teacher, who’d had it in for her ever since she pointed out she was pronouncing Joan Miro wrong. But what’s the point in trying to explain, no one ever listens.

It’s clear Lorelei is having trouble fitting in, though her brother seems to be doing okay.

Lorelei loses concentration, listening to the clock that’s saying tut tut tut. She glances around the orderly office and wonders how the teacher got the plant to grow in an orderly fashion.

Annoyed that she’s not listening the Head reprimands her and says this is her second warning, one more and she’ll be suspended – does she understand what that means?

Lorelei mumbles yes, miserably.

The head says she has enough to worry about with children going missing, without this nonsense.

She hands Lorelei a letter and along with it a waft of sickly sweet perfume and tells her to give it to her mother at the earliest opportunity. The bell rings and she’s dismissed. She’s very pleased to get away and nearly trips in her hurry.

Task Eleven: Block out a rough outline for each of your scenes.

Click here to go to the next step or go back to the Novel Writing Roadmap overview.

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