Storyboarding: Creating Structure to a Project

I love Orly Konig-Lopez’s blog Writing in the Storm, and particularly today’s Writing Process Throwdown.  She talks about her plotting method, which is one I use.

Basically, it’s a method I borrowed years ago from Hollywood’s storyboarding, where the story is put into small pictures and pinned to a board for all to review.

Instead of pictures, I use Post-It Notes with a few words that depict a scene.  I use different colored sticky notes to depict different actions or character plotlines.  For example, here’s a story I created one Halloween night in just a couple of hours, based on an idea I had for a thriller.

Diana's plotting board

It’s a scientific board, much like the ones students use for their science projects.  The board as a tri-fold divide my stories into three acts (based on the folds) naturally.  My boards are based on the plotting devices that authors Chris Vogler in The Writers’s Journey, Syd Field in Screenplay, and Blake Snyder in Save the Cat! wrote about, and methods that David Freeman and Michael Hauge discuss in their writing workshops, and I’ve attended several from both.

For this particular story, which I originally created on Halloween more than a decade ago, the reddish brown notes indicate psychological elements, the purple are emotional elements, the blue are physical  elements,  The mossy green are simply descriptions of place, and the brown, pink, and yellow notes each belong to a character.

As that Halloween evening got later, the more intense the plot became, and I started scaring myself.  Badly.  Finally, I had to quit so that I could sleep that night.  That story has stayed with me since and I will return to it soon.

The plotting still needs work.  In fact, I haven’t touch the story since that night because I was in school and homework took up all my free writing time, along with my working full-time as an office supervisor.  Since then, I’ve obtained four degrees, which enabled me to change careers from business to academia and a job I love, where I teach others how to write.

Now that I’ve returned my focus to my creative writing once again, I’m pulling out my boards.  Some are large with the tri-fold scientific boards and others are small with file folders and tiny Post-It notes.

Diana's tiny plotting board

What I like most about plotting this way is:

  • The entire story is visual at a glance
  • The story is easy to carry around with me (file folders method)
  • Colored sticky notes enables me to see where I have holes in the plotting
  • Nothing gets disturbed

I used to use 3×5 index cards but I found them clumsy and awkward for large stories.  They’d spill.  I’d have to spread them out on a wide surface—often on the floor or tack them to a cork board, which made for sore fingers pushing in all those pushpins or thumb tacks.  And then, I’d have to remove them, picking them up in order, numbering them in case of spillage.  And then when I would rearrange them, I’d have to renumber them.  I didn’t like that I couldn’t see the story in its entirely the way I wanted.

While the index cards can work for smaller works, such as an essay or short story, I prefer the Post-In Notes method for larger works:  books, full plays, and screenplays.

Once my plotting is done, I type up the notes and that document becomes my outline from which I write.  Essentially, every project is fully plotted or structured and the structure is always with me as I write.  The outline provides me with direction should I start feeling lost or get off topic.

Even though my plotting is done, I keep the board or file folder as it is and just file it with all my other notes and research documents.  Once in a while, when the first draft writing was done, I discovered that the structure wasn’t working, so I was able to restructure visually and quickly before attempting to move huge blocks of texts, which we all know can get messy.

Actually, I rarely use index cards anymore.  I much prefer the versatility of the sticky notes regardless of the project:  academic, creative, small, large, and everything in between.

What do you think?  Do you have a method/process that works for you?  Do you have a different style of using sticky notes?

About Diana Stout

Screenwriter, author, former English professor
Image | This entry was posted in Inspiration, Joy of Writing, plotting, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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