Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stay On Top of Your Story With Story Boarding

Story Boarding  by Teresa Reasor 

 What is a Story Board?

A story board is an aid used to help the writer both brainstorm and to visualize the different elements of their plot.

It can be used to insure the character arcs are realized, the turning points in character development are reached, and also monitor the forward momentum of the plot.  

With the use of brainstorming, post-it notes, colored markers, or the computer, you can plot an entire novel, tie up all your loose ends, and insure your plot doesn't falter.

The Different ways to construct a Story Board.

You can construct a story board the old fashioned way and use a desk calendar and five different color markers.

You can use a laminated desk calendar for teachers you can purchase at Office Depot or any teacher supply store. And three to five different colored Post-it notes.

You can use a laminated desk calendar and three to five Vis-à-vis markers. (these are markers used to write on overhead projector film and can be purchased at any office supply store.)

Or you can use your computer which is the easiest way to make changes.

Setting Up your Story Board On The Computer

Using word, open a blank document, go to table, hit insert, slide over to table and click on the word.

A box will come up with options for you to set columns and rows. Set three rows, and three columns and hit okay.

Select the whole grid with your cursor.  Do not use the select all function in word. Hit the right mouse key while everything is highlighted, keeping your cursor on the highlighted table, and a menu box will appear.

Go to the bottom and hit table properties. Select the row tab and check the box specify row height.  Use the up or down menu to set your box at 2.8  The columns are flexible and will expand as needed but this size will allow you 9 boxes on each page.

I type in everything in black font, then change the different elements to color. 

I use red for romance.
Blue for Suspense
Purple for introducing characters.
Green for turning points  and important rising stakes developments.
I’ve also added POV to my story board with a fuchsia to insure my POV is balanced.
And I add black to remind me of the character arcs that are being met.
You can also change font size or underline so it points out turning points for your characters.

Important Tip
Save a blank copy of your story grid to copy and paste and you won’t have to build one each time you need it.

My stories are usually 100,000 words and I know they’re going to be at least 32 chapters long so I just go ahead and paste in 36 chapters.

Example of my story board

Suspense Hook
Adam “Hawk” Yazzie goes back into a building about to explode to rescue one of his men. He discovers Brett Weaver unconscious and stuffed behind a cabinet. He carries him to safety.
Who is responsible for Brett’s injury and how can he find out what happened?
Hawk’s call to action (suspense)
SEAL team introduced.   

Chapter 1
 Romantic Hook
Hawk and Zoe at Langley Marks barbeque. Zoe introduced. Zoe is not receptive to any of the guys flirtations but finds she’s drawn to Hawk.  Zoe’s  internal conflicts introduced.  Hawk offers her and her mom a place to stay until Brett is better.
 Hawk’s Call to Action. (Romance)
Zoe questions Hawk about what could have happened to her brother and like a good SEAL he can’t tell her.
Zoe, Hawk
Chapter 2
Katie Beth, Clara, and Sharon introduced.
Hawk goes to the hospital with her to see
 Brett and realizes how badly Brett is hurt
Zoe’s Call to action (suspense)
Angela, Brett’s  nurse, and Doctor Connelly
Hawk talks Zoe into moving in with him with
her mother.

Pros and Cons of each method. 

The Pros
One of the major pros of all the methods is that, in writing everything down on a board, it forces you visualize all your plot points.

It also makes you aware of whether or not you are maintaining the forward momentum of the plot.

It insures that you’re not creating an info dump in any of your chapters so the story unfolds at a normal pace. 

It helps you visualize and maintain a balance among the many elements of your plot.  Say for instance you are writing a romantic suspense. If you have one whole chapter that is romance then you know you’re going to have to put something in the next that has to do with the suspense element of the book to balance things out.  (Mainstream romantic suspense runs about 70-30, or 80- 20 with the suspense being heavy. Certain category romantic suspense lines read more like 80-20 heavy on the romance. ) You need to know your market so you’ll know which element you want to expand and carry the most weight.    

You want to give each of your characters equal billing so the reader maintains interest in them both. If you’ve stayed in one person’s POV for a chapter, then you probably need to mix it up and change POV in the next scene/chapter. Also these switches  give you time to explore their internal conflicts about the relationship and to develop the character traits and emotions that will trigger a connection to the reader.  

Whether you do your story boarding on a physical board or on the computer, you can leave spaces for pictures to inspire you along the way. Say you’ve run across a picture of a really handsome hunk that reminds you of your hero. Stick it in one of the slots of your story board to remind you of how he looks. You can always print it off your computer if you want to do a physical board.

The computer board can be printed out and glued, or taped, to a physical surface if you need or want it in front of you. (as I often do)  Or you can print it off and carry the pages around with you to study and tweak.

It acts as a physical reminder of where you are in your plot so you don’t waste valuable time going over and over the same ground.

It helps you track an intricate braided plot, or parallel plot structure and follows the course so all the elements are addressed and nothing’s overlooked.

It insures you’ve included all your plot points so you don’t have to do so many rewrites.

In short it helps you remember to cover all the bases and acts as a  physical prompt to get the damn book done!!! 

The Cons

Doing a physical board is more time consuming because you have to physically write everything down and if there are any changes to make, you have to erase everything and put it back in. Unless of course you use the post-it note method and then you just move your notes around.

On the computer, it is of course just a matter of cutting pasting or deleting which makes it much simpler.

My Process

Let me say that I have not always been a plotter. But I have always been a story boarder.  And when I moved away from story boarding, my writing didn’t hold the dimensions that a story board allowed me to maintain. In other words, I left out elements that should have been in the book and I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t included them, until I allowed someone else to read it. Big mistake.

My process in plotting may be totally different than yours. In fact, I can guarantee that it will be because no two human beings on the planet ever think alike.

Story boarding has turned me from a pantser to a plotter. But it has also sped up the process of my writing. In fact, once the stories through, I don’t have to do any major rewrites, or plug any holes. All that’s left is line editing for repetitive phrasing, missed punctuation, typos, extra spaces, and all those pesky little quirks we have.     

So, I begin with a premise, my hook, the event that will totally change two peoples lives forever. I write Hook in big bold letters then I write a brief summary down on my story board. I may even write the Hook chapter so I can get it down on paper and wait to expand it later.

The second part of my process is to do a character grid. I need to know the two main characters who are going to be a part of my story. I work out what their concrete goals are and what barriers those goals may create to their starting a relationship. I usually have a suspense element in my book so the suspense element may be what triggers the whole story, but the relationship still has to have a barrier to overcome. This is usually a major internal/emotional thing (character flaw) that will keep them apart along with the suspense. This is also important because you have to know your characters in order to know what kind of choices they will make. Those choices will drive your plot.

Once I’ve gotten to know my characters really well, I start fleshing out my story.

So I’ve written my hook down on the board then I start to write on the board,  to just keep my vision focused--- on the turning points my plot needs to follow. I usually use the Stairway to Suspense.  
Stairway to Suspense
1st step: The hook (the Call to Action.)   
2nd step: The decision that turns the story.
The decision or choice the heroine/hero makes that turns the story in the direction it will travel. This choice is based on some character flaw that guides the character’s motivation for the choice.  
Romantic call to action.
3rd stepThe choice creates obstacles to solving the situation.
First Kiss
4th stepAnother choice, More problems, situation worsens.
The character makes another choice which causes more problems and the situation worsens.
First Time They Make Love
5th stepMore choices ,more obstacles.
The more choices a character makes, the more obstacles will fall into his/her path. 
Gray Moment
6th stepThe climax.
The greatest obstacles are faced and the greatest attempts are made to overcome the situation created in the hook.
Black Moment
7th step: The resolution.
It’s short, sweet, and should tie up all the loose ends and leave the reader feeling completely satisfied. 
Romantic Resolution
I don’t know where I got the stairway so I can’t give credit where credit’s due, but this is the one thing I use every time I write a story. I keep a copy printed out to remind me of the steps I need to make during my writing so I’m constantly looking for ways to up the stakes and drive in more conflict.

I write each short-handed step at equal distances on my story board (in order of course) to remind me what I’m working toward.  Then I also write in the romantic elements like First Kiss,  First Time they Make love, The Gray moment, The Black Moment, The Romantic Resolution in red.  These are just different enough that you’re able to keep the two elements of your plot, the suspense and the romance self-contained yet working together. Most of the time, your gray moment, black moment, and romantic resolution will mesh and will be resolved as part of your suspense elements. Because all the plot components are interlocked.  

At this point I make a Name Grid to list the names and descriptions of all the people who will be part of my story. I usually have a cast of thousands (just kidding--MAYBE), so this is important to me. It’s an aid created so I don’t misspell someone’s name or get character descriptions confused.      

I print out my character grids, my name grids, and my story board and put them all up on the wall next to my computer. It’s at this point I get the post it notes out, or if you’re doing it on the computer you can type it out.  I start saying, “What if?  I try to list about twenty-five things I want to happen at the beginning of my story for both the romance and the mystery. Twenty-five things that would be fresh, new, and spark interest in my readers. No details just possibilities. Once I’ve made my choices, I write or type them on the story board. This helps you see what you are working toward and provides you, and your characters, a concrete goal to shoot for.
The brainstorming process is on going all the way to the end of story and the end of your story board. So I have twenty-five possibilities for each step of the Suspense Stairway. And if I get stuck I go back and do twenty-five more to jump start me. The choices I make will have to reflect my character’s personalities and hopefully endear them to the reader so that, by the time I reach the end of my story, they’re pulling for them both.      

Then as you write your story, you’ll take out those possibilities you’ve listed and put in a brief summary of what happens as you write it, using the color components I mentioned earlier. That process will help you track your plot points, romantic elements, character developments, and POV all laid out at a glance.

 Whatever process you use, you may be able to use components of story boarding to help you brainstorm. Or make certain your story contains all the elements essential to a well developed plot. Or to insure all those elements tie together into a cohesive whole.

It is a great deal of work, but it’s well worth the effort if it keeps you focused and insures your plot maintains the forward momentum essential to writing a successful story.

And just another tip you may want to try. With each book, because my characters may live in an unfamiliar place, or they may have jobs that I have no knowledge of, I start a three ring binder in which I organize all my research. I put in divider headings of setting, time, clothing, travel, and of course their job information, Archaeologist, FBI agent, Saturation Diver, and ect. In that manor, I compile all the information so the next time I need it, I have it all printed out and at my finger tips. And if you write a series where all your characters spin off, you may use all this information multiple times. But that’s another blog.

Write on,
Teresa Reasor


Mary said...

This was really great. I will use this work on mine. Thank you.

Teresa Reasor said...

I'm glad you found this helpful Mary.
Thanks for stopping by.
Teresa R.

Ashlyn Chase said...

I use a fast and dirty version of this. I quickly brainstorm my scenes on yellow stickies. I've divided a cork board into chapters. (3 rows of 6, separating the 3 acts.)

Then I place stickies where I think they'll go. Inevitable I move some, add some and toss some in the trash, but it gives me something to organize and work from.

Teresa Reasor said...

You have to find the process that works best for you. And I used to use the sticky notes but with seven povs in this story, by board would have to take over the wall of one of my bedrooms, well there's an idea.
Sometimes being able to have a visual really helps with that plotting process.
Thanks for stopping by.

derekd said...

Teresa, this is brilliant. I've messed with a variety of tools to chart out what I am writing, but this is very comprehensive and cool.

Also, enjoyed the Stairway To Suspense. Hadn't seen that before. Very helpful. Thanks!

Teresa Reasor said...

So glad you found it helpful. I've been using this process through 5 books and it has always kept me straight.
Write on,