Using Story Boards

The conference I attended the first of May gave me several topics to use for my newsletters. One session explained the use of story boards to keep plots, sub-plots, and characters consistent and organized. In the May issue of The Writer, T.J. MacGregor covers using story boards to keep a multiple-POV novel on track.

I had never thought of using a story board as the speakers at the conference suggested or as shown in the magazine article. I do use note cards to keep characters under control, writing details about each character on a different card. However, I’m going to try the story board idea in the future.

Start by having a card for each character, major and minor. Give the name, physical description, job, likes, dislikes, relationships to other characters, etc. on a card for each.

Have colored note cards for each plot and sub-plot, another color for each point of view used (maybe the same color for that character’s card). If you run out of usable colors, then write vertical for one type item and horizontal for another. Just remember to keep the colors and placements consistent.

On a cork board, bulletin board, or a blank wall to use for organizing the note cards. Divide the sections into chapters. Once cards in place, check to be sure each chapter includes all the information needed to make it interesting, complete, and cover all the components necessary to that point in the plot and make the story move forward.

Materials needed for doing story boards include: a large poster board (black or white); several packets of colored index cards (3 x 5 ” and 4 x 6 “); scotch tape, and colored Post-it Notes. Colored markers or stickers could be used to color-code white note cards.

Novels (or even stories) can be organized by dividing into scenes. A chapter can be one scene or contain more than one scene. As in drama, a scene is what happens between certain characters or what a character does and what happens to him. A husband and wife team of writers and co-publishers (Lawrence and Suella Walsh), at the writing conference the first of May, said each scene should have four components: a character or characters, motivation, conflict (part of the main conflict or a sub-conflict), and resolution, even if just temporary for the time and whether good or bad results, can even be a cliff-hanger.

They advocated a writer write a title for the scene on a note card or post-it, then the information from that scene for each of the components. Then if the flow for the plot doesn’t work with a certain scene in one spot, the note can be moved to another location on the storyboard which will work better.

T.J. MacGregor, in “Try this system to keep your multiple-POV (point of view) novel on track” (The Writer, May, 2007), breaks the steps down to six (6), plus some other points. I’ll cover the six steps first, using my thoughts as well as the author’s and the Walshes’. Each card or Post-it goes on the poster board (or on a bulletin board) in the order that the information will appear in the novel or story.

* First card – synopsis: You need to summarize the idea for your novel in a few sentences. MacGregor says he uses the brightest index card he could find and put this card at the top of his storyboard. I used a large white index card and frame it in a bright pink highlighter.

The Walshes used their idea of having each scene on a different card or post-it along with the synopsis. MacGregor suggests that the story needs at least three turning points (included in the synopsis): incident that launches conflict; challenge or conflict twist that takes plot in new direction; and the climax, which leads to the ending.

* Have color for each character whose viewpoint you’ll use. The protagonist will have a different color than the antagonist. Each card should have personality and physical qualities of that character. A matching card will be used each time that character’s POV is used in a scene.

In fact, you should have a card for each and every character. List the physical description, job, likes, dislikes, personality characteristics – anything that brings the character to life.

* Have a card for each scene. Take brief notes, enough to set up the components of the scene. You can either use the same color for each scene or in some way code the different scenes. I use large Post-it Notes for each scene, writing on them so that they are taller than wide.

* Set storyboard where you can easily see it. You need to be able to see quickly and easily where your story is going, and need to be able to move cards and Post-its around when needed.

* The storyboard should be divided into chapters if your story is. The board should define the structure of the book. If a scene doesn’t work or a POV, then you can switch the cards around.

Finally, adapt or tailor the storyboard to work for you. You use the technique; don’t let the technique rule you.

After teaching composition for twenty-five years and becoming an author on http://www.Writing.Com/ a site for Poetry, Vivian Gilbert Zabel produced Hidden Lies and Other Stores, Walking the Earth:, and The Base Stealers Club, which can be ordered through most book stores and on

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