Monday, June 4, 2012

Visual Storyboarding (pt 2): By Hook or By Crook

A couple days late, but here it is - Part Two in my current series on Visual Storyboarding!

(Didn't catch the first post? Look for it here.)

Now - to cut to the chase!!!

The Hook That Grabs You

Part of knowing how to visually storyboard is to really grab on to one detail: How did the story come to you in the first place?

Of course there are myriad ways this happens to any writer. You overhear a snatch of conversation. You see one remarkable person in a crowd. You have a wacky day (or a glorious vacation, or some other event) and think: “You know, this could have gone another way…”

Sometimes the idea coalesces from various bits you’ve gathered from books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen. Sometimes you’re ambushed by an idea entirely.

My current project, Castle 8, literally ambushed me while I was driving home from an after-Christmas dinner with friends on December 26, 2010. More specifically, I was ambushed by four brothers. I knew their first names, I knew their faces, I even had a general idea of their (very strong!) personalities. They just needed a last name and a story to wrap around them.

I went home and immediately got out pencil and paper, and started hashing out who these four young men were that had crowded into my car during the long dark drive – leaped, as it were, out of my imagination and into my reality.

I was hooked. More than that – I had my hook.

If It Hooks You, It Hooks Your Audience

Granted, Castle 8 is nowhere near completion yet, though I have made it my personal goal to get it polished and query-worthy well before the end of the year. Expanding on the idea was fun, and it led me into all sorts of interesting narrative quirks that absolutely thrilled my nerdy, writerly soul. But as I worked on it, I found that I kept returning to the original idea that hooked me in the first place – the brothers themselves.

Usually, when we talk about what hooks a reader into a story, it comes down to: What was it that hooked YOU in the first place? The situation? The place? A specific character?

For me, it was the four brothers: Greg, Errol, Finn and March. They were so real to me that I kept going back to them as the central focus of my tale. Naturally it followed that the tale itself became a character-driven story.

This was confirmed even in the responses I received from my first round of beta-readers. Though the narrative was choppily rendered, with detours it didn’t need and even a few unnecessary characters, everyone honed in on the four brothers as the one thing that drew them in.

Everyone had their favorite brother, just like everyone pointed to another brother they thought was weak or “unnecessary” ~ though interestingly enough, no one ever pointed to the same brother as the “throwaway.”  I chalked that up to my bad writing and figured it was okay to keep all four of them. But it meant that I had to sift through some serious plot holes in the story.

The whole process was a priceless lesson for me. It taught me that if the hook was good enough to hook me – it’s good enough to hook my audience. Even if I fall on my nose during the actual telling of it.

Visualizing Your Hooks

That realization brought me back to the big problem I had with my narrative: it was, in short, a jumbled-up mess. And that’s putting it politely.

So what was my problem? I had visualized the Swackhammer brothers so well that I hadn’t taken the time to visualize the rest of my story. I knew it happened in the future, but a plausible future, based on technologies and machines we have now. I had an intuitive understanding of some of it, but not a lot of specific knowledge.

Scratch that. I had NO CLUE what I was doing in creating this world.

I knew the Swackhammer brothers were where they needed to be. I just didn’t have a clear idea of what that being entailed – what it looked like, smelled like, how it all fit together. Heck, I didn’t even have a map to know where everything belonged!

No wonder the narrative sagged so brutally. I had my hook, but hadn’t taken the time to fully visualize it. ALL of it.

Saved From the Black Hole

End result: in January of this year, I put Castle 8 on the back burner. WAY on the back burner. I was so discouraged with the narrative mess it had become that I figured it would be years before I could get it out of its black hole.

Boy was I wrong.

In the past four months, I stumbled across a couple of tools – some very old school, others very new – that have enabled me to get a lock on the full three-dimensional aspect of my story. I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like. I have my map. I have sounds and notes and photos and all sorts of creative detritus that has given me a tighter visual control on my project.

I’m currently rewriting Castle 8 as we speak, from the ground up.

It’s hard, of course – but only in the tenacity required to keep at something I’ve already written before. Because now I have all I need to make the story come alive – not just the brothers, but everything that surrounds them, including the dangers and locales to which future installments will take them.

How did I manage that? Well – I hate to be a tease, but that’s a subject for next time. But the next update WILL deal exclusively with the tools I’ve used to really build up my project.

Heck, I’ll even post photos. Lots of photos. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Cannot wait to share the next step – it’s probably the most fun, if you ask me.

But tell me – what do YOU do when you realize you haven’t fully realized something in your story world? I’d love to hear of other’s techniques. I know I haven’t thought of everything.

Got a comment or idea? Let me know in the comments below!
And as always – thanks for reading!


  1. I had the same thing happen to me with my Spirit series. The story just literally leaped into head. I love when that happens because I can sit down and write without having to worry about stumbling over the words.

    I can so understand where you're coming from here. There are many times when I have to slam on the brakes.

    When I do get to a point where I realize something is wrong and not being properly explained (to the point where my readers will get lost), the first thing I do is seek another opinion. Sometimes, I've read the book so much I've confused myself.

    Once I make sure I'm not just crazy, I create a map much like a genealogy chart. I have the world and everything that branches out underneath the world like little post-it notes only using Microsoft Publisher. It seems to work for me...I think. Well, I haven't had anyone complain about my worlds yet. LOLOL It could still happen, though.

    1. Glad to find a kindred spirit!! I will sketch, map, timeline, family tree or in any other way lay out the details in my head - just so they don't get lost! It makes me look crazy to my friends, but only a few. The rest of them are writers, and they understand. :)

  2. I love this whole storyboarding thing, Angela! I have a very similar problem with my current WIP - certain things are crystal clear to me, but when I can't see it in my mind, it comes out muddy and vague on the page. I think I'm going to try your visual approach, see where it takes me. :)

    1. Glad to know I'm not alone! And I hope it does help, at least a little. Everything's adaptable to the individual, anyway....part of the beauty of writing. :)