We’ve all heard about storyboards. If you use novel writing software, it probably has a storyboard in it. But how many writers actually use them and how useful are they?
Some writers find them tedious, some find them confusing, and some just want to let the story flow without planning. I admire pantsers. It takes a tremendous amount of talent to make up a story as one goes along, adding twists and deep characterization in the process.
I’m the type of person who always needs to know where she’s going. In the car, I’m an annoying back seat driver, and on a train I’m constantly looking out to see where we are. During last summer’s trip to China, I constantly watched the animated map of our flight to see where in the Pacific our airplane was located at any particular time.
When it comes to my writing, I’m the same way. So a few years ago I began using colored index cards and a storyboard made out of a science fair presentation board. It helps me get the first draft written. After that, any changes can happen, but along the way to the first draft, I want to know where the story is headed. The storyboard I use is portable, I can easily move things around and change things, and it’s simple to add notes.
A different color card for each main character
I begin the first planning of the plot problems and subplots on cards, as I wrote in this article on plotting. Then I move on to scene notes. For the story I’m working on now, scenes with the heroine’s POV have yellow cards, the hero’s scenes have pink cards, and a subplot is covered with green cards. This can also be done on white cards. Just use a marker or highlighter to draw a line that indicates who or what the card belongs to.
I write out a very short summary of each scene in the planning stage. Once I have most of my story planned, I lay out the cards in order on my presentation board.
Using a three-act structure with the storyboard
I always plan with a three-act structure, so the first ¼ of the board is Act 1, the middle half of the board is Act 2, and the last ¼ of the board is Act 3. I don’t attach or tape the cards, I just lay them on the board. Now, at a glance, I can see where my turning points are and where I may have plot holes.
After examining the cards in light of my three-act structure, I fill in gaps, holes, deepen characterization, and play with the plot. For each card, I ask, “What if?” and try to come up with original reactions.
It’s easy to move things around, discard ideas that don’t work, and insert new plot points. Once I’ve settled on how the story should go, I tape the cards onto the board. If I think of questions or twists during writing, I just jot my notes on the cards.
Another option I’ve heard of is using a large whiteboard. Writers can draw the scenes on the board using different colors of dry erase markers. The notes are easy to erase and change.
Storyboarding the novel takes time
Some might feel that I’m wasting my time playing with cards. In actuality, I’m playing and replaying the different possible scenarios for my novel, and working out problems before I’ve written too many words. Once I’ve finished my storyboard, I’m ready to write. I stand the storyboard up next to my computer and get busy typing. At that point, things flow, and if I have time off work, such as in the summer or winter breaks, I can write a very rough draft of a first novel in two to three weeks. However, I’ve spent days or weeks ahead of time working it all out on the storyboard.
Once I have the first draft written, the cards come off the board, I file them away, and the storyboard goes back into the closet until I need it for the next novel.
This is a method that works for me. To me, it’s much easier than writing several thousand words and later having to toss them in the bin because of painting the character into an inescapable plot corner. Plus, I love being able to tote my storyboard from room to room with me, depending on where I want to write.
How do you plan a story? Do you have any tricks or tips to share? I’d love to read your comments.