Monday, July 25, 2011

Storyboards For Fiction Writers

      Whether you are a new author taking the plunge and beginning work on your first novel, in the middle of your second or third rewrite, or are all ready a published author starting on your next book, organization is key to helping you obtain your vision.
     Inspiration for stories usually comes to us in flashes, such as a scene, a line of dialogue, or the name of the hero or villain that your story will be based on.  And it is your job as a writer to bring these bits of information together into one cohesive piece of writing. To achieve this, some authors have turned to the use of storyboards to help them tackle those difficult storylines or character arcs in their fiction and nonfiction works.
     Storyboards are a great tool, whether you are in the planning stages of your book, or are stuck on a chapter.

What you will need to get started:
1.     Large, flat surface, either a wall or board of some kind.
2.     3x5 cards or Post-its.
3.     Colored pens.
      Now that you have what you need, you can begin using your storyboards in a variety of ways.

Keeping Track Of Your Characters:
     Major and minor characters introduced at the beginning of your novel can become lost or forgotten halfway through the writing process, if they are not kept track off. 
     Using your movable note cards and colored pens for each character, you can record each character by their name, a physical description, and their growth as it happens throughout the story.  Another way is to divide your 3x5 cards or Post-its up by using one side of your flat surface for your protagonist and the other for your antagonist, using different colors for each.
     Whichever way you choose to lay your cards out, seeing your characters spread before you, will help give you a new perspective on the way your characters are developing, how they will fit within the story and how they will play off each other.

Ask yourself the following questions:
1.     Does each character contribute to the plot?
2.     Are your descriptions original?
3.     Are your characters believable?
4.     Is your main character someone your readers will relate to?  Empathize or sympathize with?  Care about throughout the story?
     Asking yourself these questions will help you eliminate weak characters that aren't contributing to the plot.  Get rid of character traits that are cliché such as the cheerleader, the Goth, the runaway and the rich kid. 

Organizing Plots & Scenes
     Whether you are in the middle of your book, or are just beginning to put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard, storyboards can help you organize your plot by dividing each chapter into scenes by writing them down on your movable note cards and then tacking them up on your blank surface in the order you think they should go.
     By doing this, you get a sense of the pacing of your novel.  With all of your scenes before you and at eye level, you can rearrange them, take scenes out, or add new ones where there are gaps in the plot.
Also, ask yourself the following questions:
1.     Is a plot line left out for too long?
2.     Is there a need for an additional character or characters to help fill a hole in the plot?
3.     Is the flow of action for each scene or chapter smooth and able to make sense to your readers?
4.     Are there any chapter breaks that leap out at you?  Is there enough information at the end of each chapter to leave the reader interested?
5.     Are there places where the narrative and/or the character's internal thoughts need to be broken up by action or dialogue?
6.     Is there a variety of emotion in every scene?

Getting Your Acts Together
     In the planning stages of your novel, you can also use storyboards to structure your story into Three Acts, just as you would if you were writing a screenplay.  This is a great way to utilize storyboards if you already have an outline of your plot, scenes, chapters and characters.
     To do this, divide your empty space up into three sections.  Instead of separating your note cards into scenes and characters, each one will have the following written on it:
1.     What the scene is about.
2.     Pertinent pieces of dialogue or whole conversations.
3.     The characters in that scene, including their names and description.
Once you have all of your cards together, you can begin dividing your scenes into Acts.

ACT 1:
     This is where you are going to set up your story and introduce your main characters to your readers.  Here is where you will also introduce the Conflict of your story.  What is it your character wants and desires? Why?  What are they willing to do to achieve their goal?  Who are the characters standing in their way?  The first act makes up 25% of your story and includes the first 25-30 pages.  This is where you need to grab your readers.

ACT 2:
     Act 2 makes up the bulk of your story and therefore makes up the bulk of your story - 50%.  This is where your readers really become involved in the story and start getting to know the characters and care about them.   It is at this point that you will set up scenes for the Subplot and begin introducing the Minor Characters that come into play.  This is where the Conflict is further explored and there begins a building of tension between characters.

ACT 3:
     This where all loose ends are tied up with the Conflict ending in a Resolution.   Act 3 makes up the last 25% of your story.  Your readers should be treated to a twist in the plot or a satisfying ending that wraps up all loose ends in a nice little package.

     Once you have all of your cards spread out and divided into your Three Acts, you can now assess your novel as a whole.  You can see how your story flows, and how your characters grow and fit within the story.  You may want to add or remove characters, rearrange scenes, or add to your plot.
     Whichever way you decide to use storyboards to structure your novel, having it spread before you will help you to better visualize your story before sitting down to write that first draft.