Fun With Blocks

To expand on a recent Twittervation I had with @mouseferatu, I’m trying nested block outlining with the current novel.

I outline all of my work writing. I hate it, but it’s necessary to make sure every i gets crossed and t gets dotted. Did I mention I hate outlining?  Does that suggest that I don’t do it for personal writing? Yeah? It does? Good.

Unfortunately, I’m either having to write myself out of the weeds more, or I’m just beginning to notice how frequently I do it.

I’m not outlining on the computer.  I’m writing the blocks on lined Post-Its and sticking them on the wall beside my computer monitor.  I’d show you a picture of the current progress — I just finished Big Block #5 — but I’m worried that the combination of purple ink scrawl and lime green Post-It would make you blind.

This is not entirely true. I’m also not sure where the camera is.

Okay, yes, there’s one built into my cell phone.  Fine.

Today's Block Outline Snapshot

Fun with Blocks!

The general idea is that to start out, there’ll be six Big Blocks (roughly three chapters’ worth), eighteen Medium Blocks (roughly a chapter each, with three Medium Blocks per Big Block) , and however many Small (scene-sized) Blocks I’ll need to fill up those Medium Blocks. When I started doing this, I guessed that there’d be at least three Small Blocks for each Medium Block, but I’m beginning to think six’s going to be a more reasonable minimum.

Yeah, I know there’s software out there that does all of this (and it’s easy enough to do in Excel), but I’m actually appreciating the constraints imposed by the Post-It size.  In the interests of reducing the amount of crumpled-and-pitched Post-Its, I also outline with a timer running.  When it goes off, whatever’s under my pen goes up on the wall, and I get to have a shower and my second cup of coffee at a civilized pace, instead of two minutes before everybody else wakes up.

There’s also been some benefit of having the Blocks stuck somewhere they’re hard to ignore. I reflexively re-read them every time I sit down at the home computer, and more often than not, think of something to add. I’ve also given myself a deadline to get all this block work done, so I won’t be sitting around tweaking until the dry cows show up and burn down the bar.

Proverbial dry cows.  My family uses the phrase ‘out with the dry cows’ to mean staying out very late.  When I was a kid (for the record, I didn’t grow up in dairy country), I got the ‘dry’ in ‘dry cows’ mixed up with ‘dry county’. To this day, when I hear the phrase, I can’t help but imagine Carry A. Nation as a spotted heifer. Black dress, white cap, axe and all, yep.

Will the Blocks keep me out of the weeds? Maybe. So far, writing the Big Blocks has shown me that the action throughline could easily bog down between the midpoint and the final scene, and that the heroine’s at grave risk of taking a nap through the entire midpoint (and her coming back into focus after it is part of the reason the action throughline might bog down).  Looks like I’ll have to give her more to do so that she stays too busy to keep stuff from blowing up.

I guess that’s helpful.

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