Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Storyboarding 101

As I'm plotting and researching my new novel, I'm leaving you with my first post for the Alley. For my second WIP I have used The Book Buddy from My Book Therapy. I think both methods have worked well for me. 

Storyboarding is a way of visualizing and ordering your story in a compressed way.

“But…I’m a fly by the seat of the pants writer. Do I really NEED to use storyboarding? I’m character-driven.”

Yes, my name is Julia and I’m a plotting addict. I not only managed to enjoy the process of plotting, but I am finding it has helped me avoid “stuck middles.”

I plotted my women’s fiction WIP using storyboarding software, Dramatica Pro. Admittedly this software is on the expensive side, but as this series continues I will include some information on some free and free-trial version software you may be interested in testing out.

Even if you are a self-proclaimed “pantser”, I think you might have fun playing around with at least one technique of storyboarding. It may help you in an area where you are stuck. It can help you to get a more in-depth view at your characters. There are so many different methods of storyboarding, chances are you will find one that works for your personality and writing style. My hope in this series is to provide some ideas as a jumping off point.  So grab your parachutes all you mist flyers and pantsers.  Storyboarding just might be able to save your plot from hitting wreckage.

Is it necessary to write your story in order?  Some authors, including our Alleyite, Pepper, write their scenes out of order. Storyboarding ahead of time can free the author up to perhaps be even more spontaneous during the writing process.

Booker Prize winning historical author Hilary Mantel has a seven foot tall bulletin board in her kitchen filled with scraps of dialogue, plot ideas, and descriptions. When Mantel finds a way to use these pieces she removes them from the board.

Kazuo Ishiguro, also a Booker prize winner, for the bestselling The Remains of the Day, would most likely be considered an obsessive plotter. He spends two years researching his novels and one year writing them. That seems extreme to me…but its worked for him. His flowcharts kept in giant binders, include not only plot but character emotions and memories.

The Wall Street Journal online has a fascinating article entitled “How to Write a Great Novel,” from which I found these fascinating author facts.

Why storyboard?

- It prevents dead endings and stuck middles. I’ve learned along the way that plotting isn’t limiting, my characters can still take the story in new directions (and often do).

- Action is the basis for our plotline, storyboarding keeps us focused on the action.

- It helps us to view our story as scenic, rather than expository (the whole show versus tell factor)

- It helps us to find the arc of our story.

- Storyboarding is a “visual” representation of story. It is right-brained and creative by nature yet storyboarding also allows the writer to view the logical progression of the story (left-brained).

- Storyboarding can help us to remove scenes that don’t advance the plot.

- It can allow us to write faster.

- It can help us to find the right pacing and rhythm for our story.

Whether as simple as J.K. Rowling’s single-page method for plotting out Harry Potter’s fate or as complex as Kazuo Ishiguro’s extensive notebook system, I believe even the most devout “pantser” can find some benefit from using a method of storyboarding that fits their personality and writing style.

Have you used any method of storyboarding in the process of crafting your novels? Has it worked well for you?


Debra E. Marvin said...

that graphic of colored pencils reminds me of the way I edit using Margie Lawson's EDITS process. Isn't it funny how the obsessive plotter can drag it out to obsessive editing?

I use a combination of Michael Hauge/Chris Vogler's plotting system with the Moral Premise. I have it as a chart on a big cork board....then after I've brainstormed plot points and plot twists, I put each sentence on the plot board to decide if they meet the needs of the plot progression and I can see where I have holes in plot or conflict. Easy peasy, right?

as you can see I'm a plotter. I use this scene by scene layout to write the first draft quickly. Then I go through and edit layer after layer to add setting details, emotion, and pretty up the prose.

I also have to use a collection of photos of my characters, the setting and building. Maps of the houses and the area, too. Music? sure!

I'n not sure I've seen J.K Rowling's method so I'm going to go check that out!

Kathy Bosman said...

Oh dear! I seriously lack in this regard. I'm a pantster through and through, but I do suffer from that horrible middle of the story block. I tried to plot out a whole book once, then sat down to write it. Oh dear, no inspiration at all. It was so dry and boring. When I'm reading a book, I sort of know what the ending will be, but I want it to be a surprise how I got there. I see my writing as similar to the reading experience - I want it to remain a mystery as I go along. I love watching how the whole book comes together miraculously. Maybe as I develop my talent, I will work on plotting as I think I should somehow. Just haven't found a way that inspires me and doesn't limit me.

Beth K. Vogt said...

I am a plotter with a bit of a pantser in me -- I've been known to write scenes out of order, even when I've thought my story out.
And I am addicted to Susan May Warren's Book Buddy -- a terrific tool for plotting out your book. I did that with my most recent novel and then transferred all the info onto oversize multicolored Post-It Notes -- had them all over the back of my office doors (color-coded for hero/heroine, spiritual thread, etc.)
Doing all that work kept me moving forward -- and it helped me unsnarl the inevitable muddle in the middle we all run into.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Julia. I'm probably going to show my ignorance in this question. :) I have heard of story boarding, but I'm not real familiar with it. How does it work?'

I'm looking forward to reading your series! (and meeting you at ACFW!)

Lindsay Harrel said...

I've never storyboarded, and I'm using the Book Buddy this time around too! It's worked really well for me so far.

Lisa Jordan said...

I'm a bonafide plotter. I need to know what's going to happen in each chapter before I can write. I don't stay tied to those ideas, but they do give me a path to follow as I continue writing the story. I'm also a diehard Book Buddy addict.

Julia M. Reffner said...


I've heard only good things about Margie's course. I should really invest in it. It sounds so helpful. I love the idea of your Michael Hauge board, sounds like its really working for you.


I think a lot of it is trial and error and finding what works for you personally. You'll find your way.


I love, love, love your board. I think of starting one of my own often after watching it in the background.

Julia M. Reffner said...


One of the best online resources on storyboarding IMO is Kaye Dacus' blog. Here's a link to her page with writing advice: http://kayedacus.com/writing-series-index/. I'm looking forward to meeting you as well.


I'm loving the Book Buddy. Anything done by My Book Therapy is an excellent resource! Looking forward to meeting you, too, and enjoying the newbie class at conference!


I have gotten so many great ideas from you and Beth and everyone that have helped me with this whole process. Can't wait for your new release!

Ashley Clark said...

This is such a great blog, Julia! I love what you said about storyboarding actually freeing up writers, because so often, I know I think of plotting as constricting. Can't wait to see more from you on this topic!

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thanks! I guess maybe I shoudl include something more recent on it :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

See, Julia, a fantastic post like this needs an ovation. So glad you did. Great info.