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Author Topic: Blocking the Story  (Read 2266 times)

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Bob Mueller

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Blocking the Story
« on: October 15, 2006, 12:54:48 PM »

 Date:         Thursday, December 03, 1998 04:25 PM

BookMarc #4
Blocking the Story

Okay, say we've got our story idea and we've written an outline of sorts. Now we want to block it out and see how it fits. This won't be necessary for everyone, those who charge ahead w/o writing an outline, nor for those who can keep the whole story in their head.

I think it's easiest to view your story like a movie. It's something we're all familiar with. Everything in your story is played in scenes, with one scene closing and another beginning. This is true even for a linear story, say that told in the first person. Call these chapters if you like, but sometimes more than one scene takes place within a chapter, depending of how you set it up. The story moves from the opening to closing the scene, it just doesn't have to follow a linear progression. I'm sure you've seen movies that jumped around in time and place and character. You can do that with your story as well.

Most writers do their blocking with story boards. These are simple cork boards or bulletin boards or even a large piece of Styrofoam. You assign a scene-heading to a three by five card, jot down what happens and which character is telling the story, then tack it up on the story board. Once you've worked out all the scenes to complete the story and have them up on the board, you see how they fit together. Shift them around and study them for effect. You also might want to see if you have redundant scenes, weak scenes, scenes that really do not add anything to the story. If so, get rid of them. When you're happy with how they're lined up, you're almost ready to begin writing.

A writer I know, Dave Poyer, showed me once how he blocks out a complicated storyline, with many secondary stories and many view points, on a large poster, with arrows and lines to intersecting points in the book, where characters will converge and play off once another, and perhaps end as one expires, or diverge to come together at the novel's conclusion.

For instance, suppose our story takes place during an historic episode, say we want to reveal what happens during the battle of Minihaha when a lone aircraft carrier comes up against a lone enemy battleship. One way would be to tell it through one person, but then it becomes a personal story and we want the real star to be the battle. To do that we have to show the story through many eyes. Someone flies a plane, someone fights fires, a doctor tends the wounded, a man trapped below deck, a gunner, and two captains leading their ships through the muck.

Oookay, so the first thing we do is set up the scenes for each character, which becomes a story in him/herself. Remember, things can change up until the final draft. After we get all the scenes we need for each character, we pin up all our cards. Where character-scenes intersect, we decide which character is the strongest for the scene and toss the others. When we finish, we trash any character and scene that's not absolutely necessary. Finally, we arrange the cards to tell the story in the most dramatic way. That's how to block a story.

One more point on the battle of Minihaha. Remember in BookMark #3 we talked about logic? Well, logic tells us we would never find a lone aircraft carrier and a lone enemy battleship out on an ocean w/o an escort. So we have to change the parameters or come up with a reason for this unusual condition. The carrier leaves the fleet to pick up an ex-pilot Admiral who is afraid to fly. The enemy battleship has destroyed a sub that has sunk its escort. Or visa versa. They bingo in mid-ocean. Yeah, I know, it's really stretching, but you get the idea.

In BookMarc #5 we'll take up brainstorming, perhaps a little out of order, but, as the old carny barker used to say, "ya pays ya money and ya takes ya choice."

Copyright Peter E. Abresch, BookMarc February 13, 1998

One more thing. As some of you mentioned, blocking out the story is like watching a movie in your head. The idea is to get all the pieces set out to take a look at them.

I appreciated all you comments and suggestions. No question is too elementary nor any suggestion too simple. We really learn from one another in this craft where none is a master. But being as busy as I am, I may not get back to answer your question or comments for a few days.

Sometimes it takes therapy to put the past behind you. Other times, it takes a 20 gallon trash bag and a couple of cinder blocks.
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