Monday, February 21, 2011

Blocking Details: The Action of Scene

Blocking Details represent one of the most delicate aspects of writing in scene.  If we focus too much attention on facial expression and body language, then the story seems forced.  Yet if we don't include enough, then the characters seem like talking paste-board cut-outs.

<--Week 3 - Week 4 - Week 5-->
Blocking Details
Reading Tonight
Grad Reading - Gilman 388 - 8pm.

Vocabulary Quiz Next Monday
This will be a cumulative quiz covering all the fiction terms we've had so far, and it will be added onto the normal reading quiz.  I'll add links on the website with study list - look under the Fiction tab.

Blocking Details: How Our Characters Move
Blocking details, unlike details of setting and description, always involve action - even the absence of action.  Whenever characters open a door, stand still, wave their hands, or leave a room, we learn of these actions through blocking details.

Blocking details are important because they reveal how our characters interact with each other and with the setting.  Dialogue and character thoughts are important for establishing perspective and voice, but these aspects of the story are limited to what our characters actually know.  If a character says he hates cats, for example, and he genuinely believes that cats are evil influences from The Beyond, then we can tell that this is a superstitious individual.  But he might not be aware of his own innate attraction to the cute cuddliness of baby kittens.

Blocking details can illustrate this.  We can see him reaching out with his hand, holding it just shy of touching a sleeping cat.  He can feel the gentle warmth radiating from the purring ball of soft fur.  Or we can see him blowing his nose, rubbing his eyes, and generally feeling miserable because of allergies.

Identify the Blocking Details from the Readings
"Hills Like White Elephants" and "The Things They Carried" are two very different stories.  The first is a very sparse story, heavy with dialogue, in which very little is actually told to the reader.  "The Things They Carried," on the other hand, is rich with detail.  We are told a great deal about the inner lives of these characters, particularly as revealed through the things they carry to war.

Something that both these stories have in common is a relatively low dependence on blocking details.  The dialogue in "Elephants" and precise descriptions in "Carried" tend to overpower the few instances in which character actions are actually described.  Yet the actions which are described are carefully revealed, allowing us to picture exactly how our characters move and interact in relation to one another.

In your small groups, make a list of the blocking details from "Hills Like White Elephants."  Repeat this exercise for "The Things They Carried."  Do you notice any difference between how the two stories use these details?  Pay specific attention to the fact that O'Brien's story has multiple scenes, whereas Hemingway's story is essentially told in a single scene.  How does this affect the blocking details?

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