Friday, October 5, 2018

To Storyboard or Not to Storyboard: How This Cool Planning Tool Compares to Outlines, Charts, and Maps

I'm working on my third novel, my fifteenth book, and I'm approaching it as many writers do:  from nowhere!  It's an exploratory process, and I don't really know what the book will be about.  I have a good idea, a handful of characters I already love (and hate), and a kind of plot.  But I do have my storyboard, and that's gotten me a lot further along than I would be without it.

You've probably heard of the plotter versus pantser continuum in writing.  Plotters like to know where they are going, in every degree, before they begin.  Pantsers are the opposite--they feel their way along, following the nudges and ideas that come as they generate writing.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  I don't think I would've gotten thirteen books published, fourteen written, without some planning.  But I also know I gained a tremendous amount by letting the muse direct some of my steps as I went forward.

I recently experimented with being a total plotter.  I signed up for an eight-week online class that only taught planning.  Writers came in with ideas, rough drafts, revisions of novels and we all stepped back to step one:  writing a synopsis, chapter summary, character backstory, etc.  I found it exhilarating and very difficult.  So much I didn't know, it seemed idiotic to try to outline at this stage.  I am more like novelist Tova Mirvis who can't approach an outline until she's completed a rough draft.  But I did have my storyboard set up, so I had a very sketchy map, and it got me through the eight weeks.  Surprisingly, because of that storyboard, I was able to complete a pretty solid outline by the end of the class.  Without it, I would've floundered.
One reason I love storyboards is that they are a very right-brain planning tool.  You don't work linearly.  You choose key events:  the beginning idea you have that might launch the story, the possible ending, a midpoint (also called an emotional midpoint) where the story takes on a new twist, and two turning points where the slate is wiped clean to some degree. You begin with these and they can be rough.  If I'm writing a two-narrator story, I create two storyboards.  If I'm working on a nonfiction book, I take my ideal reader along the storyboard path, charting my information delivery accordingly.  If it's a memoir, and I'm the only one telling the story, it's my five points that I brainstorm.
Storyboards are a completely flexible brainstorming tool.  But as I reconfirmed for myself, during this planning class I took, they nudge the writer towards structure in an almost organic way.  
Later, as Mirvis says in her article above (if you can't get the link, go to's blog and search for her name), you can use outlines, charts, and all the wonderful tools that planners love.  But in the beginning, and all the way through that first terrible draft, it's essential to find the balance between the plotter and pantser that fits for you.  How much of each depends on how you're wired creatively.  
Because I find storyboards help so many writers find that balance that works for them, I like to teach it as often as I can.  I'll be offering a one-day workshop on to take you through the process, whether this is your first book or your fifteenth, at the Loft in Minneapolis on Friday, October 26.  Click here for information.  I'll also be offering an online version of this workshop in the spring, and I'll share details in future blog posts.  I'd love to have you join me for either or both, and help you get closer to your perfect plotter/pantser balance.

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