Storyboarding the Novel

Many writers do some version of storyboarding as they polish their novels. Storyboarding is a technique borrowed from stage, TV and film where the major plot points of the novel can be identified as part of the whole.

Writing Tip for Today: If you are finished with a draft, in some stage of revision or you’re bogged down in the middle of your WIP, storyboarding can be cheap and quick to help you diagnose and remedy problems with the story. You can use 3×5 cards, sticky notes, a white board or a simple sheet of paper for your storyboard. Ways to use storyboarding include:

  • By jotting down a scene or chapter’s main action, you will be able to see at a glance what happens in that part of the story. When you’re “in” your document, it’s harder to see globally.
  • Line up the cards or notes in chronological order, listing by scene or chapter. Stand back and you may be able to detect plot holes (places that need a transitional scene or a scene to bridge the story logic, e. g., how did our hero get from one place to another?) or duplicate scenes, or scenes where not much happens to advance the story. This last one is what I call “marching in place” and one clue is that this type of scene not only doesn’t move the story, it’s one that you particularly love and have trouble dumping.
  • Play the what if? game. Try rearranging some of the scenes to enliven the story line. For instance, a major occurrence that happens near the novel’s halfway point might have more impact if it were closer to the beginning. Moving up these pivotal scenes will probably heighten conflict and make your story more compelling. It also means you’ll have quite a bit of rewriting to do. Totally worth it, though.
  • Identify the climax scene. Is your climax scene properly positioned? It must occur very near the end of the book. The reason for this: once your character deals with the main story goal (at the climax) the story will be quickly over.
  • Identify plants. Foreshadowing is an important element for novels. When you read a good one, you may think the author naturally foreshadowed certain events or characters. In reality, most writers will need to go back and plant the seed of an idea or character, so by the time the event occurs, readers are used to it, think of it as natural and don’t view it as an intrusion.
  • The ways to use storyboarding can go far beyond this list. One writer I know uses different colored sticky notes to map out character emotions, narrative arcs, red herrings and other sub plot elements. You could use this method also to analyze a published novel. At the very least, by listing the scenes you’ll have a ready-made chapter-by-chapter outline. Use your imagination!

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Storyboarding the Novel

  1. Hi, I’m a plotter so this is very familiar (I don’t understand how people can write even the first draft without an outline or road map).
    It’s useful in revision, too. Particularly in finding the ‘marching in place’ scenes.

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