First and foremost, there are no rules in writing OR plotting. You are not required to create a storyboard if you do not wish to. (But if you haven’t found your method yet, it’s not a bad idea to try new things.)
This post is about mine.
So, what’s a story board? (Or plotting board)
A storyboard is a visual representation of your novel/screenplay/sitcom/whatever.
You can use the 3-for-$1 posterboard from the Dollar Tree or Story Board Notepads or color coded cells in a spreadsheet–whatever you wanna do.
Mine are on large, thick, tri-fold display boards.
The first thing I do is grab a Sharpie and a metal yardstick and grid out the board. Some people plot in pages. Some people plot in chapters. I’m in the middle–I plot by scenes. So, knowing I write approximately 75 scenes to a 400 page book, I create a grid 10 columns wide and 8 columns tall.
In my mind, I decide that each row signifies approximately 50 pages, and that the last square in every second row should be a turning point. (A tweaked version of 4 Act Structure, the only part of which I use being the turning points.)
If this is a first draft, I embark on this incredibly anal process by which I type up all my ideas for potential scenes (or snippets of dialogue/emotion/action/etc to go inside unknown potential scenes), print ’em out (column-style, so they’re skinny), cut ’em up with my Fiskars trimmer (a scrapbooking tool that makes cutting easy and fast), run ’em through my Xyron (yet another a scrapbooker tool that covers the backside of paper with adhesive) and slap them onto multi-colored sticky notes.
Feel free to avoid all of that.
The important thing for me at this stage, is to have a vague idea of the scenes to come (at least up until the first major turning point) and to know what sort of disaster will go down for the black moment, climax, and resolution.
For this first-round story board, I typically use a different color to symbolize each POV character, so I can see at a glance if the hero/heroine screen-time is balanced how I want, or if my villain drops off the face of the Earth for 200 pages.
Here’s an example for DATD (still in first-draft mode):
Above, pink=Dorinda, blue=Gabe, yellow=Villain. I’ve heard people knock color-coding this way (by saying it’s “like a baby” etc) but I personally find pink=girl and blue=boy intuitive. You may color however you like.
A few things to point out about this story board:
– Some rows have more sticky notes than others
Yes. That’s okay. It’s because some scenes are longer than others. The first and third sets of 100 pages apparently have shorter scenes overall, compared to the second and fourth sets of 100 pages. That’s not on purpose, it’s just how it worked out.
– Some sticky notes have little round stickers
Ah. These were added later, once I got about halfway through the story. You may not be able to tell in the photo, but some of the stickers are pink and some are purple. The colors themselves mean nothing, but the pink ones stand for major events in one subplot and the purple ones stand for major events in another subplot. This is just so I tell at a glance whether I’m dwelling on a subplot or whether I forgot about it completely.
– Some sticky notes have handwriting on them
This would be because I tend to diverge widely from my original typed ideas. And just because typed sticky notes still remain does not necessarily mean I followed them. At this point, I am writing forward through a first draft, not worrying about the 100% accuracy of each individual sticky note. That said, if a scene in no way resembles what I thought would happen, I remove it, and put up a new sticky note with a handwritten summary, or I jot a note at the bottom of the existing Post It.
So. Draw a grid. Attach sticky notes. How you color code them and what you write on their surface is completely up to you. Some people (especially those writing first person POV) are not served by the POV character color coding system, because there is only one POV character. This is fine.
There are plenty of other ways to color code. You could do so on the basis of the Hero’s Journey, with a different color for each step of the way. (Or any plotting structure, not just the Hero’s Journey.) Or you could color code based on plotlines and subplotlines.
Which brings me to: the Revision Storyboard
Looks a bit different than the first-draft one, doesn’t it? Here’s why.
At the polishing point of the writing process, I’ve got the story down. I know which POV the scenes go in and which scenes go where. I’m not changing big chunks of the plot. I’m just making sure all the threads tie together.
So, on with the Sharpie and the gridmaking. And then out with a stack of yellow sticky notes and a pile of colored markers.
I keep my blue=boy and pink=girl philosophy for this one (although my villain for this board is green, not yellow) and the top line of each sticky note is the scene goal for the POV character. In other words, the point of the scene. In all caps.
Following that, each with their own assigned color, are notes indicating sub plot turning points or key events.
Once again, I can see at a glance what’s going on with the story.
My agent mentioned the heroine’s best friend disappearing for 200 pages. Since she was not a POV character, I didn’t notice this by looking at my first-draft story board. But when I assigned her a color (Mauve for Maeve, ha!) and jotted a one line note on every scene she took part in, I noticed that she did in fact disappear for 200 pages. Oops.
Naturally, I had to fix this snafu. And since I could see my entire story at once and glance at all the other color-coded plot threads very quickly, I was able to determine right away where Maeve’s presence would really augment other scenes. And now it’s much more even!
In conclusion, (thank heavens, right? how freaking long is this post?) there are three main takeaways I want to impress upon you regarding storyboards.
1) They are an excellent visual tool to help you see your story as one cohesive unit made up of related parts
2) You do NOT need to plot in advance to use a storyboard. You can add to it as you go along and move stuff around however you please. That’s why everything is on sticky notes!
3) You can create your story board however you want. There is no One Method. Whatever works for YOU is the right way. K?
YOUR TURN: Have you (or someone you loved *g) ever used a story board? What do you think about utilizing visualization tools to physically “see” your story? What other spatial organizational methods have you tried?