Monday, March 7, 2011

Storyboarding Like a Pro

When I was writing my first novel, I had a general idea of what the story would be about.  I wrote an outline (yes, I'm one of those writers) that made sense to me and took a crack at it.  But I had a very difficult time keeping track of scenes and with as much editing as I was doing to my outline, things quickly got out of control.

Then I found out about storyboarding, and it all became simple.

What is a storyboard?  A storyboard is a graphical organization of plot that has origins in animated films and motion pictures.  I know what you're thinking -- you're a writer, not an artist!  Fortunately, they don't need to be drawn out as pictures on cards.  They can work visually for writers with words, rather than pictures.

Take a stack of 3x5 index cards and write one scene per card.  Include:


Time: Date or general time the scene takes place (ie: January, or January 5th, 2025, or After John reads the letter)
Location: Location where the scene takes place
Characters: Characters involved in the scene
  • A bulleted list of events that occur
  • And things you intend on showing
  • ie: Show that John cares deeply for Jane

These things answer the WHEN (Time), WHERE (Location), WHO (Characters) and WHAT/WHY (Events) that are critical to each scene.

You can write out your scenes by hand on each index card, or you can plug your scenes into a word processor and set the page size to 3x5 index card and print them out.  I began doing mine by hand, quit halfway through and relied on Microsoft Word to finish the job. I think they are more readable that way, anyway.

When you're done, you can organize them however you like -- but keep in mind that you want to be able to move them around freely whenever the urge strikes you.  The idea is to show you your plot holes and allow you to organize your scenes into an order that makes sense to your plot and to your reader.

I ended up tacking them up onto my dining room wall with painter's tape, organized into vertical columns representing chapters or acts within the novel itself.  It made it easy to see them all at once (rather than keeping them in a stack on the table), plus I could move them around easily (rather than keeping them in a photo album organized in plastic photo pockets), and they could live there indefinitely (rather than being spread out on the living room floor).  I loved the fact that I could walk into my dining room and see my entire novel spread out before me whenever I wanted to.  It made me feel like I was getting somewhere even if I was stuck on trying to write a scene that wouldn't come.  Plus, I could always choose another scene to work on and leave off on the one that was plaguing me without fearing it would be lost somewhere in my word processor.

Whatever works for you, do it!

Some other links:

James Withers on Storyboarding
Crawford Kilian on Storyboarding and more
Editor Unleashed on Storyboarding
More information on Storyboarding