Friday, April 29, 2022

A New Take on Storyboards for Your Book

Last week, when I taught my all-day workshop on storyboards, I didn't tell the 30 wonderful writers my real feelings about storyboards.

Truth is, I dislike them. I revere them, and I use them because they work, but I absolutely hate the startle they bring when the process shows me all my gaps and errors: places I have too much or too little, where I've written on track or on a tangent.

Everywhere my book isn't yet working well.

I remember one writer at a weeklong storyboard retreat getting so upset with what her board revealed, she almost flew home from the beautiful island where we were all staying. She also hated the new information and took a good two days to adjust to what it meant: reworking sections she loved.

But what's the alternative? Either you hire someone to tell you this, or you learn it yourself. I've opted for the second, at least in early drafting. I need to know placement in time and space--where things will be, in my book. I need to know if the characters' growth tracks. With short pieces, you can just flow out the words and correct later. With a long manuscript, you do better with an overview of the sequence that readers will follow.

Storyboards are used in publishing and the film industry to check and correct sequence, to see if cause and effect are present, to trace a character's evolution through a story. A basic storyboard is a giant blank cartoon--rows of empty boxes lined up on a page or wall or posterboard. You insert ideas, then you move the boxes around until the sequence of ideas equals a reasonable flow for your book. I like the W storyboard because it also tracks the up and down movement of plot. (See the video below.)

I use storyboards first for plot, to check this movement. But if that kills my joy too much, I also like playing with character storyboards.

On my W storyboards, the boxes are Post-It notes, easy to move around. I choose one for each of my main players. Using my plot chart, I write Post-It notes for the beginning and ending boxes: where I want each of these three characters to begin their story and where I want them to end. Then I began to imagine what could change along the way.

I've used this alternate technique even after drafting 100,000 words of what basically did not hold together. When I struggled to make the plot cohese, without success, I let myself explore the characters' stories instead.

New ideas came through--better ones than I'd already written scenes for.

When they were laid out on the storyboard in their rows of boxes, I saw very nice connections between the characters' individual plots, as well.

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