Friday, December 3, 2010


Sometimes in writing a story it a good idea to block everything out first to get a visual of how it's going to look. This is the subject of 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 our story like a movie. It’s something we’re all familiar with. Everything in the story is played in scenes, call them chapters if you like, but sometimes we might want more than one scene to take place within a chapter, depending of how we set it up. The story moves from the opening of a scene to its closing, and although scenes and chapters can follow in a linear progression, they don't have to. I’m sure you’ve seen movies that jumped around in time and place and character. We can do that with our story as well.

Most writers do their blocking with story boards. These are anything you can stick a pushpin into such as a large piece of Styrofoam. We 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. Once we’ve worked them all out and up on the board, look to see if we have any redundant scenes, or redundant actions in different scenes that we can consolidate or eliminate. And then shift the cards around for a best fit.

A writer I knew, Dave Poyer, once 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 one 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 the story is through one person's point of view (POV), but then it becomes a personal story. If we want the real star to be the battle itself, we have to show it through many eyes. A pilot flies a plane, someone fights fires, a doctor tends the wounded, a man is trapped below deck, the two captains lead their ships through the muck.

Oookay, so the first thing we do is set up the scenes for each character which becomes stories in themselves. 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 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 BookMarc #3 we talked about losing credibility if we ignore logic for the sake of a storyline? 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 which sank its escort. Or visa versa. Bingo, they in mid-ocean. Yeah, I know, it's really, really stretching, but you get the idea. Either set things up as they would normally appear, or come up with logical reasons why they don't.

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

And remember: It's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading Easy Reading Writing than to curse the darkness of rejections. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on:

Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998.
Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: and the James P. Dandy Elderhostel mysteries at: