Visual Plotting (aka Storyboarding)
When I first started writing, I was a pantser writer (that means I wrote by the seat-of-my-pants…no planning or plotting), but the more stories I created and the longer they became, I had to morph into a hybrid writer where I would have to write a high-level outline and then I could sit down and write my books.
I recently ran across the concept of visual plotting aka storyboarding on Rachel Vincent’s blog** and the idea really appealed to me for a couple of reasons:
1) Because I’m a very visual person
2) Because when you write bulleted items down in an outline format on paper and you print it out to read it away from your computer, you aren’t given the freedom to “mess” with the order of events/scenes(how and when they occur) as easily.
So I gave this concept a whirl for my manuscript Insurrection (the second book in my Scions trilogy that I originally published with Harlequin under their Silhouette Nocturne line).
FYI: You can do this on Scrivener now! But if you prefer a tactile, hands-on approach over digital, then here’s how you do it. The concept is the same regardless.
1) Dry erase board big enough to hold a LOT of sticky notes.
2) Different colored post it notes to represent different aspects of your story, ie Main plot, main subplot, secondary plot, minor subplot and of course the romance.
3) Dry erase markers. (I tried to match mine to the sticky notes, which I’ll tell you why below)
Basically what you’re trying to do is take high-level ideas and put them on sticky notes in a one-liner format. As ideas/new scenes come to you, keep writing them down on the appropriate colored post it notes and then plunk them on your erasable marker board in no particular order. Once you have as many as you can think of, start placing your ideas/scenes on the board in the order that makes the most sense for them to happen in your story. After you have placed all of them, you might get an idea to move a scene earlier or later and that in turn might spur new ideas or scenes or plot twists for your story…to which you’ll jot down on a new post it.
In my mind, this kind of plotting helps for two reasons:
1) It’s more flexible
2) It lets you see if your story is balanced or where you might need to add more elements for a better balance.
For instance, if you look at my storyboard at the bottom of this post, you’ll see that I don’t have any light pink post its at the end. Light pink post-its represent the romance aspects of my story. Yep, I haven’t figured out yet exactly how I want the story to end. Also, since I have yellow at the beginning but nothing near the end, I can tell I need to make sure I carry my secondary plot further into the story. I have ideas for both additional light pinks and yellow posts its, and those I could either jot down on a few post its and keep them to the side until I decide which one I want to use OR I could use my markers and write out the different ending ideas on the board off to the side. That’s why the coordinated markers might come in handy.
Rachel’s example helped her formulate her synopsis, which I think is the BEST use of this storyboard…ie, high-level plotting. That’s exactly what each of those post it notes represent…plot points, twists, romantic scenes, etc that will happen in the story—and that’s exactly how you write a synopsis…at a high level.
Did Insurrection follow this outline? Some of it did, but it gave me a very loose road map and a place to “play with” ideas and tweak my story as I’m moving along.
For a great tool with many functions such as:
1) Helping you get out of a plotting rut
2) Helping you write up a synopsis when you haven’t written the rest of the story yet…ie, if you want to write a proposal to pitch to NY publishers/agents, etc.
3) Helping you tweak your novel as you’re writing it
Give storyboarding a try and see what you think.
I’ve added the storyboard below again so you can see it beside the color-coded legend (which I also pilfered from Rachel** 🙂 ).
Green: Main plot
Hot pink: Main subplot
Yellow: Secondary plot
Blue: Minor subplot
Light Pink: Romance
Tip: I wrote on the back of my post it pads what each color represented. Then if I forgot while I was plotting which color went with what, I just flipped over the pad to remind myself. That should come in handy since it might be a month or two before I use the pads again for the “next” story plotting.
** Giving kudos and credit where it’s due.
NOTE: I wrote this years ago, but just ran across it in an old website archive. I’ve reposted it here so I’ll have it archived on my current website for any aspiring author or reader who is curious about the writing process. All writing tips are posted under the writing/craft, writing tips category.