Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Perspective in Your Writing--How Far Can You See?


On Monday, my weekly book-writing class talked about the desperation that writers get: the need for perspective about their books. Where are all these chapters going? What's the book really about? What's the point?

Toggling between seeing the trees to seeing the forest is an important skill that book writers develop.

A book writer uses the right brain to create scenes and snippets. This keeps most writers happy for a while. The task is to hold off needing to organize these bits and pieces, because during the nonlienar process, the right brain gets to inform the writing about the "inner story," or the underlying meaning. Meaning develops theme in most books.

You've probably done this random writing. Kenneth Atchity calls it "islands" and Natalie Goldberg calls it"freewriting." It's a wonderful part of most books. I wrote my first five books without this method, and I suffered.

But there's a point of critical mass: the sheer volume of writing accumulated in these freewrites becomes overwhelming. We grow desperate to move away from the trees and see the forest.

Enter storyboarding. Storyboards are used in filmmaking to diagram the plot or arc of a movie. Publishers also use them. I was hired by publishing companies in 1990s to design books by storyboarding a topic the publisher decided they wanted to produce. Once the book was storyboarded, a writer-for-hire put it together. It was a common practice.

I learned a lot from storyboarding. Below are the steps I use. See if they might help with your book-writing process--and give you a good glimpse of forest instead of trees. If you get confused, feel free to write me an SOS email at mary@marycarrollmoore.com. And if you want hands-on practice, join me in Key West next weekend!

Storyboarding Steps
1. Print out all the sections you’ve written for your book.
2. Cut the sections apart so each covers only one scene, idea, anecdote, point of view, or location. Write a cue card for each. Put the manuscript pages aside.
3. Go through the cue cards until you find your triggering event*. Place this card in the upper left-hand corner of your poster board.
4. Scan the remaining cue cards until you find your integration moment**.
5. Place this card in the lower right-hand corner of your poster board.
6. Arrange the remaining cue cards on the storyboard, creating a flow that fits your book at this moment.
7. Place blank cue cards for any missing sections.
* Triggering event: the moment without which the story wouldn't exist.
**Integration moment: what you want to leave the reader with.