There’s this amazing picture of the storyboard that JK Rowling used to manage the story arch for Harry Potter. This approach to organizing a plot isn’t new. In fact, writers and storytellers have been using the storyboard for ages.
Storyboards are not exclusive to the fiction industry. When I was in advertising school oh so many years ago, the storyboard was used both as a copywriting device as well as a presentation tool. Learning how to use a storyboard can help you create a seamless and cohesive plot and you can use them at any point during your writing process.
What is a storyboard?
Most often a storyboard is used for a film or television show. It’s a visual representation of the shots planned for your piece. It might be rough drawings or sketches, or if you’re like me and have no drawing skills whatsoever, it’s a collection of tracings and cutouts.
But we’re talking about fiction, right? We don’t need to draw. We don’t need a visual representation of the plot. What we do need is a brief sentence about what’s going to happen in each scene. There are different ways to approach the storyboard
Creating Your Storyboard – Choosing Your Format
The key to a successful, i.e. useful, storyboard is that you are able to create it with little or no extra effort. That means doing whatever feels natural to you. JK Rowling, as shown in the photo, wrote longhand and used a pen and notebook paper. I’ve used notebook cards spread out on the floor and then pinned to a cork board.
Other times, I simply write out each scene in a notebook and then transfer the information to a document. Typing up my longhand notes helps the plot become clearer in my head and it makes it easier for me to send out for feedback as well. Some people use storyboard software like DramaticaPro to help them stay organized.
You might have to play around with different formats to find one that suits you. Or you might also find that while you used a notebook for one novel, you prefer software for your next novel. (You’re a writer, you’re allowed to use whatever works for you whenever it works. There’s no right or wrong approach.)
But what if I’m a pantster you say? What if I don’t plot my story?
When to Storyboard
Storyboards help me flesh out an idea. I might imagine a scene, for example a woman is hiding in a barn and a super hot rancher finds her. What happens next? A storyboard can help me create a book from a single idea. I’ve also used them when I’ve finished a draft so that I could make sure there were no holes in the plot and that it flowed well.
Storyboards are a simple way to chart your scenes and make sure that not only is your plot consistent but that you also have a good story arch. You can see where some scenes may be weak, where scenes need to be added, and also what is superfluous and should be deleted.
They’re also useful if you’re a plotter to help you get your scenes organized before you start writing.
Top Tips for Using Storyboards
#1 Keep it simple. If a pen and a napkin work for you then use them. If you want to be able to access your storyboard, rearrange scenes and share the information then check out software programs. (I’ve never used DramaticaPro but I’ve heard it’s a good one.)
#2 Organization is key. Each chapter is a block or a point on your storyboard. You don’t have to plot it scene by scene. You can, but the more structured your storyboard is, the better. You can, if you prefer, create notes for each chapter. For example, if the hero and heroine meet in chapter three then your notes for that chapter might outline where they meet, what happens, and so on.
#3 You don’t have to have all the answers. If you don’t know what’s going to happen in chapter seven then that’s perfectly fine. You can fill in as you go. The storyboard makes it easier to imagine what can happen.
#4 Post-its are awesome! Here’s how simple your storyboard can be. Write down what happens in chapter one on a post it. Use one post it for each chapter and pin or stick them to your wall. Voila! Instant storyboard.
One final note on storyboarding…
You might think that putting this much extra time and effort into your plot seems silly. Part of becoming a productive and hopefully prolific writer is the speed at which you can crank out good books. Creating a storyboard for your romance novel will help you write your book more quickly. And, it makes the revision process move along more effectively as well.