This post was a special request, and I’m happy to explain my process. I’m going to ask you pantsers to read it too. I may not change your mind, but you might glean a tip or two anyway. Today, we’re going to talk about outlining, but we’re going to do it my way.
Remember the old scientific outline we learned in junior high? It’s basically worthless here, so don’t panic. We aren’t doing anything like that today.
I like to follow a three act structure, but there are other methods you can adapt. The biggest change is to start storyboarding. No more Roman numerals, indents, and lower case progression.
I’m going to place the image here, then we’re going to talk about it.
I use a virtual cork board called Pinnic. I used to use Corkulous Pro, but it doesn’t seem to be around any longer. They tell me one exists in Scrivener. Use whatever works for you, including an actual board, the garage wall, as long as it works.
The first thing you’ll notice is the blue card. I like a mission statement, but admit to not always using one. I keep all of my notes simple, because I like the characters to drive my stories. I might write this on my mission statement: Two dipshits go to Panama to find out what’s happening to all of the construction workers. Magic, Mayhem, Monsters. (Okay, I did use that one.)
Don’t panic over four columns of cards. Act Two is a big one, and gets two columns. We’re going to work in order here, so off to the left is Act One. The card at the top, Northwest if that helps you, is the very first part of the book. Add a line or two about how you’re going to open. Might be the villain, the hero, the world itself.
Down at the bottom, Southwest, is the end of Act One. This is where the hero/heroine/group, rises to the challenge and takes positive steps in that direction. Make a quick note. (On the photo, C stands for climax.) Think of it like the point of no return.
Now you’re going to place more cards between those goals. Your character will need wounds, desires, and stakes. Will you use a mentor? Will there be a love interest? Use as many or few cards as you need here. You want to get from the first card to the bottom of the column. I don’t get too detailed on my cards, but that’s up to you.
Part of the fun with a storyboard is the other things you can add. I use a ton of sticky notes with situations, or good lines that come to me. I also add graphics. There is a cute Mini Cooper convertible pinned here in my board for The Hat. I have an image of Mickey Rourke pinned to my board for The Playground to remind me what my brutal thug looks like.
My app also allows for checklists and other items. I once added the stages of grieving to a board to make sure I worked through them all for a character.
The beginning of Act Two is stepping into the new world. You all know what kind of stories I write, but it works for everything. Maybe your divorced father of three fills out an online dating profile at this point. He is stepping into the new world.
At the bottom of the second column, everything goes wrong. This is a point of failure, maybe characters die. Maybe the kids want to go live with Mom. Make a card, then add cards to get to this point.
Top of the third column is a regrouping, and revelation. The character was wrong about something. Column number three ends with a new plan in place, and preparing to execute it. Follow the process and add cards to get to that point.
I’m trying to hurry, for sake of word count, so Act Three is the big battle and denouement. Start at one, end at the other. Fill in the steps between. If you don’t write speculative stuff this is the fight with the new girlfriend, the reconciliation with the ex, happy ever after.
Your internal cards might involve ticking clocks, dark night of the soul, herald characters, and more. It’s up to you whether these situations are useful to your story.
I love the idea that my app has push pins and strings. These are great for plants and payoffs. I always wanted to use them, but never have. Nobody is grading my storyboard, so all it has to do is work for me.
I also admit to abandoning a board or two as I’m writing. I learn something about the characters, and they take over. Oddly enough, this only involves the internal cards. The important ones, the ones in my photo, always remain the same. There have been times when I stopped at the end of Act One, and started writing the story. Remember, the board has to work for me. I don’t work for it.
You can go as crazy as you like. I keep mine pretty minimal. You could add word counts at the turning points if you like. Maybe you want to go deeper and make a card per chapter. I don’t, but it may be just what you want. The thing is to try stuff, keep what works, and throw the rest out.
You can make the acts as short or as long as they need to be. When you open with your character in the water, swimming away from the giant squid, you set the stakes, fear, desire and all that pretty quick. Other stories, you need more time to spell this stuff out.
Story boarding shouldn’t crush your creativity. Remember, you can always move or delete a card. It isn’t something so rigid that you can’t change things up.
Right now, I have four active storyboards outside the story I’m writing. They make a good place to collect my thoughts, and when they’re ready I’ll write them. This has proven very productive for me. No more of that “what will I write next?” When I have an idea during my commute, I can add a sticky note using my phone after I park. It might be something on a board I won’t write for two years. I don’t have to trust my memory to some fleeting thoughts.
I had a thorough board for Cock of the South. I’ve never had that much detail before or since. However, it allowed me to write up to ten-thousand words per day once I started drafting it. There is a benefit to having a good roadmap.
This is a long post. I hope I’ve demonstrated the value of storyboarding. How about it SEers, does storyboarding sound like something you might benefit from? I’d love to hear from you.