When I was a network engineer, I leveraged a common if perhaps inelegant method to troubleshoot a misbehaving, large computer network I referred to as”divide and conquer.” When the network is so contested that it cannot be managed “in-band,” the offending computer must be physically located.
The basic premise of “divide and conquer” was to pick a spot in the “middle” of the network – usually some core device, a switch or a router (which is what we used to call Layer Three switches back in the day), and examine the device. A badly misbehaving network manifested itself in all lights blinking fiercely or, in extreme cases, almost completely solid. The little green LEDs indicated traffic activity. Bad network events often created a saturation of traffic, thereby clogging the network pipe for those trying to do actual work.
The next step was to determine which half of the network contained the source of the activity. Often these core switches / routers had “backbone” connections connecting to two or a few other core switches / routers. In the simple example where the network has three core switches, unplugging one connection will result in one of two actions (usually): the lights will stop blinking ferociously, or they won’t. If they stop their manic dancing, the source of the problem is on that half of the network just unplugged; if not, it exists on the other segment. Repeat the process as best as possible at the downstream device, until the switch that feeds the misbehaving machine is identified.
As I cogitated on the approach to my next novel project, I wondered if this divide and conquer – a method to traverse the beginning of a broad overview to the details of the subject at hand – could help bridge from concept to details. Sometimes the best way to answer such a question is to limit the thinking and initiate the doing – so I did just that.
I started with the basic premise of the book, not much of a story, but having the elements of an interesting tale – a feel-good journey with a happy ending. From that I developed three acts quite easily – the description of the problem, the path to resolution, and the new world. Here emerged two more characters: an external antagonist and a supporter. My first round of division, into thirds, had tripled the detail and taken little effort.
At this point I put the theory into practice. I divided each act into two parts, again adding detail to each of the acts but nothing detailed. With six sections, I repeated the process and then began again, with each iteration adding more detail. When I reach the end of the fourth division, I will have twenty-four chapter outlines, a healthy goal but not one that I will limit myself to. Each chapter outline contains two to four scenes.
I haven’t yet completed the fourth division, having finished only through the outline for chapter nine (and approximately 3500 words). Still, I have already found this method to be fruitful in drawing out the creative process. I’m not ready yet to call this method of creating a novel a success, of course – but thus far I see promise. Stay tuned for updates!