Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Love (Hate) Affair with Storyboards

Storyboards, the visual map that filmmakers use, save my books. They are my primary pathway through my piles of material.  They are my best tool for organizing and structuring my novels, nonfiction books, and memoirs so that a reader can make sense of the story.

I love them. I couldn't make publishable books without them.

I also hate storyboards. They are like bossy mother-in-laws, telling me what I'm doing wrong. They point out exactly what I don't want to look at about my book-in-progress: where I have too much blah-blah-blah, where I've skipped a juicy opportunity for conflict, where I've stayed on track or gone on a tangent.

Essentially, it becomes clear as day where my book isn't yet working.

I teach storyboards, I have several hanging on my office walls, and I barely tolerate their linear know-it-all attitude. But I think they're gold.

The Golden Opportunity of Storyboards
A big question as you begin your book is this:  How are you going to know if your story flows when it's outside of your own inner worlds?

You can craft a draft, of course.  Get it typed out and printed, read through it.  But it's still hard to see if the idea you presented on page 31 will thread through to page 231 in a way your reader will track.

Some writers make long lists.  I do this too.  Facts to check, threads to follow.  The lists on my desk are as numerous as my printed drafts, after a while, and I start to go crazy under all that paper.  Here's where storyboards present a golden opportunity, like a good map out of a swamp.

A writer needs to know the structure of her story flow, the placement in time and space of each idea or plot point.  It's not just enough to churn out the words. The sequence matters, a sequence that readers can follow, and you need some method to clearly see sequence. Filmmakers use storyboards to provide this.

What's a storyboard look like?  Check out  this video where I demonstrate a storyboard.