Monday, April 20, 2009

Using a Storyboard

A few years ago, during the time I began educating myself about creative writing, and the dos and donts, I came across a book that suggested using a storyboard.

What is a storyboard? Here's what mine is: Envision a large rectangle of 1/2 inch plywood, cut to 48" x 51". Screwed to this board are small binder clips, purchased from the office supply store. These clips are positioned on the board 6.75" apart horizontally, and 5" apart vertically.

Going cross-eyed here? Don't despair. This board is designed to hold 4"x6" index cards. So it can hold 7 cards horizontally and 10 cards vertically. For a total of 70 cards.

Now here's the really neat part. Each 4"x6" card holds information on each chapter of my book that I write. I enter the following information on each card: The page numbers of that chapter' the number of pages in that chapter; point of view character; other characters in the scene; and main plot points of the chapter as well as the ending hook.

I simply created a template on Word that creates those fields, and plug them in when I'm writing. The whole idea of the board is to be able to tell all the pertinent information of each chapter. This becomes really important as you do revisions, to keep track of parts of the novel that may change from one chapter to another.

Ideally, this keeps track of your book for you...actually, several books, unless you have a book that is 70 chapters long! My storyboard helped me take a manuscript that was a couple hundred pages long and keep track of the plot and the movements of the characters. There were definitely times while writing "Guardian" that the story board saved me from some embarrassing moments.

The thing I learned is that the story board works only as long as you work it and use it. I used multi-colored index cards: white, blue, salmon and green. The white cards were the summary of each chapter. Blue cards were for changes in plot I needed to go back and change; salmon took care of dropped or inconsistent information.

While I was writing "Guardian" I used the story board almost religiously for the first several edits (I confess, I do a lot of edits). But once I finished the book, and went back to make further changes, I didn't use the cards, and keep them updated, the way I originally did because I was familiar with the plot threads. But, like I said, you can make mistakes if you don't carry that through all of the revisions, because my publisher still found a couple of plot inconsistencies.

One final note: we authors are too close to our works to catch everything that needs changing. That's why we have good critique groups. That's also why you need to keep up with the storyboard. It will show you exactly what major plot points you have in each chapter, and keep you from repeating them later down the road.

Think of your storyboard as another fresh pair of eyes, and you'll see that you can reap great benefits from using it.


unwriter said...

This is a good idea.I don't have the room for a full sized story board, but I did map out characters and chapters for 'It was in the Tea Leaves'. This is still in the editing stage.

Chester Campbell said...

Your storyboard really sounds interesting, Katie. I don't think it would work too well for me, though. I'm sort of a peripatetic writer. I don't write walking around, but I frequently change my writing spot from my upstairs office to the downstairs living room and the laptop. Be sort of difficult to wag the storyboard around.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I've never used a story board, but it sounds like an interesting concept. I may have to give it a try.

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great idea, Katie. I do something similar, but I use poster board instead, both sides. My index cards have the setting, characters in that chapter/scene, what happens, and the cliffhanger at end of chapter. Also page numbers and word count. I get confused easily, especially on the 6th or 7th edit.
Great post.


Cheryl said...

I've heard of these before but never used one. I'll have to consider it for my next book.

Thanks for sharing this great idea.


P.S. I love the new photo in your profile.

Deb Hockenberry said...

Hi Katie,
I've never heard of a storyboard before except in animated films but I do something similar. I found making dummies like you do for picture books works for more than picture books. They work great for magazine or ezine stories & I imagine they would work for children's novels too!
Deb :-)

General de 15mm said...

I work by the snowflake method.

I start with a very condensed summary, split into chapters.

Then I write the summaries for each chapter.

Then I expand.

Anonymous said...

This is a good idea, Katie! This sort of visual thinking would help an illustrator like me who is trying her hand at writing this year.