Thursday, May 05, 2011

Storyboard: Chart Your Story to Find Plot Holes

Current Project: Blindsight (working title), PN
Status: Characters stuck in limbo in middle of climax due to Other Obligations

My process includes writing a full-on, NaNoRiMo-style First Draft in order to avoid waking my Internal Editor. After doing a lot of brainstorming about characters, GMC, settings, and Major Turning Points, I am ready to roll. When I reach The End, I put the First Draft away for a couple weeks, take a break, and work on something else.

Then I chart my manuscript, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, on a Storyboard. I use this tool to create a visual representation of my book on a big piece of oak tag board.  Some authors use a white board and erasable markers. The Storyboard allows me to examine the story’s structure and find plot holes; out-of-place, missing, or unnecessary scenes; places where my pacing drags; threads that haven’t been neatly tied up – and anything else I want to track.

A storyboard can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. There are no rules, only guidelines.

I mark out a grid with a pencil or permanent marker: four rows (each representing about one-quarter of the story –Acts 1 thru 4) of five boxes ( for a twenty-chapter book; you can adjust for your own work.)


Ch. 1
Inciting Incident
Ch. 2
Ch. 3
Ch. 4
Ch. 5

Ch. 6

Ch. 7
Ch. 8
Ch. 9
Ch. 10

Ch. 11

Ch. 12
Ch. 13
Ch. 14
Ch. 15

Ch. 16

Ch. 17
Ch. 18
Ch. 19
Ch. 20

The End

For one story, I began with a very simple Storyboard to examine suspense and romance plots in order to balance them in a romantic suspense. I also tracked POV character for each scene.

Make up your own color scheme. Just be sure to post a list of what your sticky colors mean somewhere on the blank area of the board for easy reference. The blank areas also give you a place to track deleted scenes, write notes to yourself, etc.

Square orange sticky notes told me what happened in the suspense plot in each chapter.
Pink listed the romantic developments.
Green were the subplot
Yellow tracked the H/H’s Story Arcs

I used sticky tabs for each scene in the chapter. These included chapter/scene numbers (1-1, 1-2, etc.) and a description (Body find, First Meet, etc.)
Heroine’s POV scenes=pink tabs
Hero’s POV scenes=green tabs
Villain’s POV scenes=purple tabs


Suspense Plot Kickoff
(Meg, Alex, dogs=Beauty and the Beast)
Dogs find body – someone’s framing Meg for murder
Sisters toss body in the river [ORANGE]
Romance Plot First Meet
(Meg, Lance=police chief/ hunky neighbor, Beast)
Lance shows up looking for uncle’s lost dog (Dingbat)
Subplot Kickoff
Tish=Meg’s sister and Jamie=Tish’s Bosnian friend/
CONTRASTS w/ Meg’s foreshadowing [GREEN]
Meg’s Character Arc
Sisters State Meg’s Goal
Lance’s Character Arc
Shows he needs to prove himself as the new Chief
1-1 Body Find M=POV
1-4 Meg waits during search M=POV [PINK]
1-2 First Meet L=POV
No scene
1-3 Body-in-woods Call L=POV
No scene

I could see at a glance whether or not a chapter included movement in both plots. I could follow plot threads easily. If someone other than the protagonist had too many POV scenes, or I forgot to let the reader know what the villain was up to for too long, the color patterns made these things obvious.

Here’s a photo of the one I did for a single-title Romantic Suspense with multiple subplots:

The vertical row of stickies down the left side is my reference guide. The stickies below the line are deleted scenes and notes to myself.

Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, the Storyboard may be just the tool you need to find and fix your story's hidden flaws. Try it! 

If making a Storyboard stresses you out, maybe this tool's not for you - and that's okay. But if  you have fun with this plotting tool, fantastic! Add it to your writing toolkit. 


Genene Valleau said...

Love your storyboard! (Of course, most people who know how I write would have guessed that. :) And it's great how using different colors can tell you at a glance if all the pieces of your story are progressing.

I usually do a storyboard for plotting too. However, with my series of nine books, I don't have enough wall space for the photo storyboard of the characters and for the plotting storyboard. So the plotting is on a spreadsheet in my computer. It's been interesting to try to keep all the changes up to date and plot how the changes affect the other stories.

Thanks for sharing!

Sarah Raplee said...

Genene, I'm in awe of your organizational skills! A nine-book series is well in my future, if ever, I'm afraid. *VBG*

Nice to find another Storyboarder in our group. I'm trying a spreadsheet approach to worldbuilding for my next book. Jury's still out on that effort.

Christine Young said...

Love everything you do. You are amazing. And yes, Genene, it looks like something you would do. Don't you use a storyboard. Heaven knows I've tried but I get so confused when I try to plot that intensely. And if I tried to use a spreadsheet on my computer, I'd probably lose it some where in cyberspace. You gals amaze me. LOL

Paty Jager said...

AAA!! You're making my head spin!! LOL I am not that much of a plotter. No way even close. A single page GMC chart and Character dossiers and knowing my beginning and end with a turning point or two for good measure and I'm off and writing.

Sarah Raplee said...


I think using a Storyboard AFTER your first draft to look for plot holes could work for you two, Chris and Paty. Or to make sure loose ends are all tied up. You can make it as simple or complex as you want.

Or not. As Jennie Cruisie says, there are many roads to Oz!