If I had any shame in the slightest, I’d apologize for the title of this blog post, but I do not, and so the pun stands proudly.
Firstly, let me start out by acknowledging that every writer has a different process. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll see that what works for some people, won’t work for others, or what bears fruit in one story, will fail in the next. As writers, no matter the type of writing, we will encounter a wide variety of challenges that change and evolve with each new story or project, and with each step we take to further our understanding and grasp of craft.
Still, as someone who obsessively plans, outlines, plots and interviews, one of my most beloved tools of writing has stuck by me time and again. It’s not uncommon or revolutionary, not now, but it’s gotten me out of more sticky plot issues and setting questions than I care to admit. Behold the power of the storyboard.
So what is a storyboard?
Well, for most people, storyboard refers to the series of drawings and occasionally directions or dialogue that film or television directors and producers will use to visualize the upcoming scenes. It can be detailed and well-rounded, consider the new worlds of a sci-fi film being brought to life, or it can be bare bones and essential, house, beach, shark, people screaming. The point of a storyboard is to give the artistic mastermind a visual aid to understanding what is coming next in the story.
I use storyboarding a little more loosely.
In one of my recent novels, I did an exact storyboard, only with words instead of images. On a large whiteboard, I sketched out the fundamentals of each scene as they stood in one color, and then I wrote the upcoming and necessary edits in a different color. If the edit was character development base, it was a different marker than if it was plot based. Details were also differentiated, until the whole thing was complete and I looked like a bit of a manic.
But it worked. Because I was no longer trying to conceptualize this overwhelming, full-length novel that resided in a two hundred page electronic document. Instead, I could look at the whole thing, sitting there right in front of me, and I could see what worked and what didn’t, make the visual notes about changes and continuity, and bring the story up to scratch without fear of missing something fundamental.
That’s just one version of my storyboard. Mostly, I pull up a secret board on Pinterest and go nuts. I pin potential character inspiration, setting photography, clothing, pets, literally anything in the world that gives me inspiration, the feeling of my book. It’s not necessarily a “traditional” storyboard, but what it does is create a visual, alternate version of my idea, providing a unique perspective and a wealth of inspiration, should the writing drag.
For you, it may not be storyboards, whatever their iteration– and I’ve only mentioned two, but there are hundreds of different ways to illustrate your upcoming scenes. For some people, having a conversation with a character or physically traveling to the location where a scene is set is the kind of jumpstart they need to push their writing into high gear. That’s great, whatever works to get your creative juices flowing is something to use.
But next time you’re struggling, don’t discount the storyboard out of hand. It’s a lot of work and it does need to be wrestled a little, to fit into the book writer’s toolbox, rather than the screenwriter’s toolbox, but it’s always going to be worth it. When it comes to writing something unique and original from your own imagination, you can never, ever be too prepared.
So next time you feel the wheels of inspiration start to stick in the mud, consider the storyboard. Maybe it’s on a piece of scrap paper, maybe it’s on an industrial whiteboard, maybe it’s in a secret Pinterest board, find what works for you. Use it for your broad strokes, your swaths of story and inspiration, and then go fill in the details later. And who knows, you might just find that stick figures and stock photography are all it takes to pull your book out of the mud and get you back on your way to writing. ♦