Storyboarding 3: Organizing Crazy Ideas

Now we come to the heart of the matter: the process of creating the storyboard.  Now, I need to reiterate the “rules of writing” principle.  Just because I said it, doesn’t mean it is the law.  Here in this post I’m going to outline my storyboarding process and how I used it to create an outline for my work in process.  I’m doing this not because my way is the way, but because the freedom involved in storyboarding can be crippling if you don’t know where to start.  When I outline my next book, my process won’t look exactly like this, and yours probably won’t either.  That’s fine.  For now though, here is a starting point.

(If you missed my first two posts in the Storyboarding miniseries, catch up here and here.)

Basic Outline

Alright, you’re going to start with a stack of (possibly multi-colored) index cards and a big open board of some kind.  Also pens, markers, pins, coffee (inevitably destined for a spill), and a mind full of whirring disorganized ideas.  Or maybe you have no ideas.  If that’s the case, don’t lose heart.  Storyboarding is about creating ideas as much as it is about organizing them, so we’re to move on no matter what.

One important note before we get started: a critical part of my storyboarding process is outlining from the back cover to the front.  WAIT.  Don’t leave. (And don’t shoot me either, please.)   I’m a full on linear outliner and writer.  I don’t like jumping around when I’m outlining and I really don’t like jumping around when I’m writing.  But lines, it turns out, go both ways and you actually can outline linearly from the back.  I’m going to give a brief description of the process here in this post, but you should probably check out this old KP article on the subject to get a more developed idea of the process.

Here’s a basic visual of the storyboard template I’m walking you through in this post:

Yellow Cards

First up, the yellow cards.  (I call them yellow because they were yellow on my board.)  Yellow cards are going to be the subject/idea organizers for your story.  If you’re writing a multi-POV novel, then these cards will be your different POVs.  If not, then they can be just about anything: different story arcs, different subplots, different countries/cities.  It doesn’t matter which one you pick.  If you work with it for a while and decide you don’t like it, you can just start again with a different set of yellow cards.  (We’re going to be doing a lot of redoing for this project, that’s fine.  It’s all part of the creative process.)

Once you’ve got your yellow cards selected, pin them in a long row across the top of your board.  If two of them are going to be interacting a lot, you probably want to put them next to each other.  (If not, that’s fine.  You can use some of those colored markers from last week to indicate correlations.)

Backwards Cards

Next, you want to take a few index cards and pin one underneath each yellow card.  (Lines facing outward.  I know it said backward, but that’s because…)

These cards are going to be the building  blocks of your backwardly outlined novel.  So, at the top of each of these cards you want to write what(figurative) state that yellow card (character, sub plot, city) ends up in at the end of the story.  Not sure how your story ends?  Then it’s time for some brainstorming.  (I didn’t promise that you’d get out of any brainstorming, did I?)   But don’t take too long on these.  Remember, all of this can be (and probably will be) redone later.

Below what you wrote for the end, write the step that comes just before that.  For example, if your character tosses a ring into Mount Doom in the climax of your novel, the step before that would be getting to Mount Doom.  And the step before that, getting to Mordor.  And before that, getting rid of that Gondorian prince with a hubris problem.  #didntlikeboromirbeforehewasevil  ANYWAY, it may take you a card, it may take you five, but take some time to brainstorm the outline of your novel on a bird’s-eye level.  Don’t go scene by scene, just make what will basically be a list of tasks which must be done in order to accomplish the yellow card’s story end.

Breaking it up

Going to go WAY back in the archives and link to an old post here on lengthening your story.  Why?  Because I like it when you click my links and see my other posts.  (And also because this process is what we’re going to do in our next step.)

Take each of the items on the list from your backwards card and make them their own cards.  Line those cards up underneath their respective yellow cards.   If you have some items which are shared by yellow cards, you want to mark them somehow.  Either by stretching them over rows (as shown in the diagram) or using color coordinating markers, or my some other contrivance which you’ve… contrived.   Then, take each of those cards, which represent tasks from the last step, and start brainstorming smaller steps.  Get to Mount Doom from Mordor?  Well, we’re going to have to go through Cirith Ungol,  Deal with Shelob, get captured by orcs, cross the plain of Grogonath, and finally, climb the mountainside.

Once you have those smaller steps down, you’ll be just a step away from organizing your scenes and finalizing your outline.  Just one little hiccup: Timelines.  Don’t worry about that though, because we’re going to address all that mess in part four next week!

That’s it for today; I hope you found it helpful.  Organizing crazy ideas can be super tough.  Sometimes the best plan is just to start throwing stuff at the wall until you see what sticks. Storyboarding isn’t going to remove the hard work of brainstorming, but it will make it much more efficient.  Sometimes, that’s all you need to get over the hump.


(Note: I’m going to hopefully be pulling the blog down for a day later this week so that I can do some of those cool things I promised I would do earlier this Summer.  So when you show up but the Woodland doesn’t, that’s why.  😀 )

Photo: Color Pens, _Ardu_, CC BY-NC 2.0

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Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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