Monday, May 28, 2012

Storyboarding vs Mere Plotting

With JuNoWriMo almost upon us, I have tweeted more and more lately about the “storyboarding” stage of my writing process. Several people have asked me what I mean by that, and still others have asked for a closer look at how I go about the prewriting process entirely.

Most writers refer to this as simply “plotting” – but I confess, it’s a word that rarely enters my writing vocabulary.

In the world of Angela, prewriting means storyboarding.

What is storyboarding?

A nice dictionary definition of storyboarding is simply this: “A panel or series of panels of rough sketches outlining the scene sequence and major changes of action or plot in a production to be shot on film or video.”

In other words, it is a term generally applied to the film industry. Generally, it’s a visual pictorial outline that looks something like this >>> See for excellent storyboard examples. <<<

This sort of “plotting” is essential to those in film, since so many details hinge on the presentation of the visual aspects, and not dialogue only.

The Megatokyo Connection

I first ran across the term storyboarding several years ago, when I discovered the mother of all quality, convoluted, complex webcomics known as Megatokyo. The mastermind behind the comic, Fred Gallagher, was still putting out Largo & Piro goodness in his original gag-a-day comic strip format then. But not long after I joined this deliriously inverted world of geeks, mystery, social awkwardness, gaming, and the undead - Fred did something VERY interesting: he decided to morph the comic strip from a daily yucks-and-giggles routine to an overarching story with multiple characters, intricately interwoven plotlines, and ongoing themes that actually went beyond humor and meant something.

In short, he wanted to move out of sitcom territory and tell a substantive story.

As he went through the transformation, Fred documented his efforts in his blog posts, which always show up at the bottom of the page after the comic. This is where I first heard him rant about storyboarding, and how much time was consumed in plotting things out correctly.

Then he started posting snippets of his storyboards. He still does this sometimes, by posting “in progress” comics when the finished result is taking a while to really polish off.

Once I saw what he meant by “storyboarding”, my whole vision of what it meant to put a story together changed. Drastically.

Why storyboard a novel?

The idea of “storyboarding” changed my view at a bedrock level, and on a point so simple as to be considered obvious: Stories need to be visual.

That’s almost a “duh” kind of statement, isn’t it? After all, we live in a visually charged society. If it’s not the internet or television or movies, it’s coming over our iPhones and iPads, Kindles and Nooks, not to mention the old standbys – billboards and posters and magazine covers in the grocery store check-out lines. We are bombarded by visual stimuli constantly. Yet we still need the reminder – or at least I do – that today’s audiences are so visually conditioned that any would-be-author who ignores this reality of the modern audience does so at his own peril.

Again – a “duh” moment, right?

But here’s where the lightbulb went on for me: If I am going to write for such a visually charged audience, then I need to write visually – even before I put words to paper.

Please do not misunderstand me.

Storyboarding a novel does NOT mean:

·      Drawing tons of sketches beforehand (though some authors – including J K Rowling, are known to do this. But it’s not for everyone.)
·      Belaboring my writing with loads of long, heavy description. (This is generally considered monumentally BAD writing.)

But my audience is visual. VERY visual.

So how do I do this?

My personal answer is what I would like to take you through for the next few weeks. I’m not saying that I have all the answers – only that I’ve found what works for me; and I have helped enough writers along the way that it seems to help other people as well – not everyone, perhaps, but many. And it’s adaptable; so if you’re NOT an artist, then you can tweak the process in a way that fits you.

Over the month of June I will break down the steps of how to storyboard a novel the “Angela Goff way”, and let you be the judge of which part of these sub-components works for you.

Generally speaking, the trajectory of this series will cover: context, hooks, idea gathering, timelines, maps and sketches, and then of course how to merge all of that into a full storyboard.

I hope this little foray into my brain will help some of you, or at least encourage you in knowing that you’re already doing some of these things that will save your novel from the slush pile.

Follow me on Twitter (@Angela_Goff) or subscribe to email notifications for this blog to catch the next installment, hopefully coming your way by the end of the week.

Questions? Comments? Does any of this sound helpful?
Let me know in the comments!


  1. I just found your blog - this is such a great post. One of the things I have been playing with on my writer's journey - figuring out the method that works best. I definitely think storyboarding is my way. New follower :)

    1. Hello, Tasha - Good to meet you! Glad you found the post helpful, and hopefully the following ones will be helpful for you as well. Thanks for following!!

    2. First, Angela, this is a beautifully written blog post. You've introduced the concept very well and I'm looking forward to reading your series on storyboarding. Thank you so much for agreeing to share your process!

    3. You're welcome! And thanks for reading!!

  2. Story-boarding seems to work for me. I try to visualize it as driving through the fog on a two lane road. I know the general direction I want to go and the main intersections I need to pass through. I know I need to keep it between both of the white lines and out of the ditches. But I still have freedom to explore and discover new a deer in the road, or the headlights of oncoming traffic. These surprises are what makes writing exciting - even with some sense of structure to the overall process.

  3. I look forward to hearing more about your methods. Sounds intriguing! :) I plot scene by scene as well, but haven't tried doing it in a visual way, either. When I write a book, it's like a movie in my head. I SEE it, which is why I write so visually. So I'm interested in hearing about your storyboarding technique!