Sunday, May 4, 2008

What’s The Story On Storyboarding?

Although I’m sometimes a fly-by-the-seat writer, I’m also one to need structure and organization in a lot of things in my life. I make lists and cross tasks off as I go, I record all sorts of things on the calendar, and I slap Post-It notes up all over the house to help me remember things.

So given my obsession with Post-Its, it was with great interest that I learned of storyboarding a year or so back.

What is storyboarding, you ask? I define it as a sort of visual, colorful way of organizing ideas, scenes, action, and plot elements, or a different way of writing a synopsis or an outline if you choose. Now, let me reiterate I’m sometimes a fly-by-the-seat writer—but at times I’m not. So the use of storyboarding allows me the flexibility to build my books as the mood strikes me. Yet I can also organize, reorganize, shuffle around, delete, insert, or just leave the whole shebang alone if I want, and all at a glance without having a gazillion documents open at once on my puter.

Now from what I understand, each author has their own way of doing it, but I combined a lot of methods and came up with my own recipe that I find works for me…


1) Post-It (or generic) notepads of at least 5 different distinguishable colors

2) One of the following: A dry-erase board, a chalkboard, the side of a wide shelf or file cabinet, a clear wall, or whatever flat surface is nearby your work area and easily seen and accessible

3) Dry-erase pens (good if you’re using a dry-erase board and like to jot ideas next to your Post-It notes)

4) Colored regular markers


In my storyboarding world, I can make each aspect of my story whatever color I like. (I often change the “key” to prevent boredom—LOL.) Some authors color-code the point of view only, or other elements in different ways. It’s whatever works for you. But for the sake of example, let’s do it like this…

Pink = romance and/or sex

Blue = main plot

Green = main subplot

Yellow = secondary plot

Orange = minor subplot

Now, let’s say you have a one-paragraph blurb or short synopsis already written up or in your head, but you need to expand on it. Using one sheet and color per scene, ask yourself what’s going on in the opening scene? Is it mostly sex and romance? Cool, I like getting right to the heat. (evil grin) So then grab that pink Post-It pad and jot down a sentence or two to describe the scene. What’s the major action and change that will occur in this scene? Got it figured out? Good. Now slap that pink baby up on the board. This represents your first scene of chapter 1. For more examples and details, read on…

Scene #1: Whose point of view will this first scene be in? The heroine’s? Okay, pick a colored regular marker to represent your heroine’s point of view and make a pretty little heart (or dot or X or whatever—it’s your creation!) up in one corner of that first pink Post-It paper. This allows you to later tell at a quick glance which character the scene’s POV is driven from, and overall how many POV scenes each character has throughout the book.

Scene #2: The villain bursts in and starts shooting the hero, you say? Ah, being the creator, only you know for sure, but I just bet that’s related to the main plot. Blue. Grab the blue note pad and jot down the plot’s action and change you plan for this scene. Stick it up on the board next to the pink note (scene #1). Oh, and it’s in the hero’s POV? Yep, pick a regular marker color (distinguishable from the heroine’s) to represent the hero’s POV and add a little symbol in the upper corner of this blue Post-It.

Scene #3: Whoa, in burst the heroine’s best friend. She has an entire past with the shooter, and you plan to eventually unravel and weave it into the h/h’s plot and conflict. Since you know it’s going to have a strong influence on the main plot, that’s probably green. Jot the best friend’s actions and scene changes/events on the green dude, and up it goes on the board next to the blue dude (scene #2). Wait, whose POV are we in? The friend’s? Then pick yet another colored regular marker and make yourself a little symbol in the corner of the little green sheet that will represent Miss Friend’s point of view from now on. Later on, you might see with just a quick count that she has 10 POV scenes to every 5 of the heroine’s. See how that works? Now you know you’ve got to either quit giving Miss Friend so much stage time and change some POVs in those scenes, or it needs to be her book instead of the heroine’s. LOL

Scene #4: And so on it goes as the plot deepens.

Hopefully, that all made sense. Once you’ve got the whole story on Post-Its and synopsed (I think that’s a new form of the word synopsis I just made up – grin), step back and take a look at your artwork. Now suppose that in one glimpse, you suddenly realize the whole damn board is freakin’ pink. WTF? Are they screwing like rabbits? Isn’t there any plot other than sex? Gee, it sure didn’t seem that way when you were writing the short blurb, did it? So here’s where you pull a Titania: You shuffle, move, reorganize scenes, delete or add scenes, rip up Post-Its, rewrite some of the notes…or start all over.

Another thing you can do is get out the dry-erase markers (if you’ve used a dry erase board, that is) and, next to or below/above each Post-It, identify the date, time, or location of that scene, or do extra little things like find your black moment and mark it with a special star so you can work up to that scene while keeping up your pacing.

There are many at-a-glance advantages to developing your own storyboarding methods such as “seeing” your pacing, being more aware of the number of POV scenes each character is allotted, getting a better feel for book length/time/day of the scene, where the focus is in that particular scene (i.e. the main plot, subplots, etc.), if you have too much or not enough of something such as too much romance and not enough plot, things in the wrong order, or whatever. You can begin combining scenes (and thus Post-Its) to tighten it up, or adding more to expand, or rewriting a scene in a different character’s POV, etc. Another advantage is that you can skip around easier than with a regular document and write your scenes in different orders, piece them together later, and yet not get confused because your visual board is keeping you on track with one sweeping glance.

Whoa, and believe me, I need all the help I can get to keep from getting confused!

So what do you think? Gonna give it a try? Have you ever used the storyboarding method to outline or plot a book? If so, how do you do it? If not, and if you plan to give it a try, please come back and let us know how it goes!

Titania Ladley (aka Roxana Blaze) is a multi-published erotic romance author writing for Ellora’s Cave, Red Sage Publishing, and Samhain. Please visit her websites for hot excerpts of her two new April releases, FIRES WITHIN and BREATHLESS.
Burning bedroom doors right off the hinges!


Tielle St. Clare said...

I don't storyboard but it sounds like an interesting idea. I come up with the whole story before I start writing. I usually just write a detailed action sypnosis before I start and then I jump into writing.

My current work is much more complicated than normal so I might need something to keep track of what's going on. Storyboarding might be a way to keep my mind straight with this thriller plot I'm working on. Thanks for the information, Ti!

Lynn LaFleur said...

Very informative post, Ti. I've never used a storyboard. I'm a huge pantser and just jump in and write. (I do have a general idea of a plot, but that's about it. I surprise myself all the time as I write.)

I saw a great workshop on this at my local RWA chapter a few months back. I can see why it would work for so many writers. I don't think I'm one of them. I'd probably mix up the Post-it colors and have the hero making out with the best friend. And that would be a totally different book!


Cait Miller said...

I've heard of this and will definitely keep it in mind for future writers blocks :-) I tend to do a very minimal plan and flesh things out as I go. I find it's more flexible that way, I tend to change things as I go. My characters don't always agree with my plan :-)