Ever watch ‘House‘ on TV with Hugh Laurie playing the part of a brilliant diagnostician? We do. My husband watches the clock during the show. Approximately 48 minutes into the show, he’ll announce that it’s epiphany time so House will shortly diagnose this week’s mysterious disease. It happens just as he predicts. Every time. Because House is plotted on a storyboard.
What’s a storyboard? Picture a calendar without numbers. That’s a storyboard. (What follows is what you’d do if you were using an actual, physical storyboard. We’re not using the board here so don’t actually do anything, just read so you’ll know how a storyboard works. It’s kind of neat. Then I’ll show you how to storyboard without the board and you might want to try that.)
Change the calander… the storyboard… to fit the length of the story you are writing. A short story should have only one line on it so block out the rest. A really long novel, over 50,000 words, requires that you add extra lines to the bottom so it’ll look like a month with six or eight weeks in it. And a calendar of six-day weeks works best. When finished, you’ll have a storyboard that’s perfect for the story you will tell.
In the first box, write ‘beginning’ and in the last box write ‘conclusion.’ In the boxes at the ends of each line, (the ones that would be Saturday on a calendar) write ‘significant event’. Then scribble in what happens in those scenes, the significant events being whatever changes the direction of the story. A couple of boxes before the ‘conclusion’ box, write ‘climax.’ and scribble in what happens in those scenes. Then fill in the rest of the empty boxes, the ones leading up to the boxes that would be Saturday on a calendar. And that’s how storyboards work. They schedule the actions of a story and that schedule avoids long, boring stretches and puts the climax where it belongs,near the end.
This works wonderfully for TV programs with allotted times and for books with required word counts. But not every story is best told in precisely measured increments. With e-publishing, word counts are irrelevant. A story can have however many words are needed to tell the story. But you don’t want it to become boring, so the concept of storyboarding is still valid. So the question is, how do you use the good parts of storyboarding without having to also deal with those parts that aren’t useful to your story?
The answer is to use a computer, that neat writing instrument that allows you to insert stuff wherever you choose. So… open your computer, start a new file and write ‘beginning’ on the first line (beneath the title of the story). On the line beneath that, write ‘climax’ and below that another line labeled ‘conclusion.’
Between the beginning and the climax, insert as many significant events as needed and label each one ‘significant event’, making sure they build towards the conclusion. It’s a good idea to use a different color ink when you do this, or italics or some type that’s easily noticeable. Because the next thing you’re going to do is insert more scenes and you don’t want your significant events to get lost.
So now it’s time to insert whatever scenes lead up to each significant event, keeping in mind that the last significant event must lead immediately to the climax and that will lead immediately to the conclusion so don’t put any scenes between the last significant event and the conclusion.
Done? Good. Now look over your outline. Are there more than five scenes leading up to any significant event? If so, eliminate some or shift them to another part of the story because that’ll be too many scenes and will bore your reader and is what storyboarding, with their limited number of boxes, is designed to avoid.
If you do these things, you will have storyboarded a story that will not bore your readers and that will build to a satisfying climax and conclusion, and you’ll have done it without using a board and without the restrictions of time or word count requirements