Welcome to the next installment of the Visual Storyboarding Series!
If you need to catch up...
Now for part three...
All right. Now for the nitty-gritty.
We’ve got our hook for a story.
We know why it hooks us.
We’re determined to storyboard our story
visually, and not merely plot it out.
So what’s the next practical step? RESEARCH
Researching elements that will help you present your story
visually comes in roughly five different ways:
The first three methods are almost givens, but must be
repeated here, if only because the advent of internet and high speed access has
somewhat squashed most people’s desire to do REAL gruntwork when it comes to
the realm of research.
Care for a firkin of good wine?
Researching It Old
Your first step is to
know the terminology used for your research.
Get past the surface level and
find the jargon for the specific thing you need. Once you do
that, you’ll have the tools you need to find the books you need. Also: You'll have the right key words to sift the zillion websites that would be,
for you, utterly useless.
Don’t overlook real
books that might help, especially at the library.
There are tons of hard
copy books at your local library collecting dust that could help you
tremendously, and in unexpected ways. Sometimes it pays to just browse the
topical shelves in the non-fiction section and see what crops up. You think
about weird things? (Have you seen what people used to write books
about? I mean really...)
year I stumbled across a gem of a book in the crafts section, entitled: The Forgotten Arts & Crafts by John Seymour (© 2001).
One brief perusal of this book absolutely blew my mind in
regards to my current project – everything from hedge laying to peat cutting to
coopering to making horse collars and smocking. And the kegs! Do you know how
much wine is in a firkin? Or a puncheon?
If you read the book, you’ll know.
More than that
you’ll know not only how much wine is in a firkin, but whether said barrel of
wine is enough, when dropped, to (a) break a foot, (b) kill a man, or (c)
merely get him soaked through with the king’s best brew. (NOTE: I actually looked for this online to give you a visual reference
– it’s not there. Yay for real books!)
See what I mean? Sometimes doing it “old school” still turns
up some REAL gems for your work-in-progress.
LOOK. A railroad switch lamp! Isn't that exciting??!!?
Last year I had a lucky accident where my WIP was concerned.
I met a friend for coffee – a rare treat since she now lives in upstate New
York and rarely returns to Georgia – and while we chatted I got to know more
about this new job of hers that had so cruelly taken her away from me.
Know what she does for a living? She designs railroad switches.
Yep. Railroad switches. That’s it. Sometimes she gets to
replace them, too. But that’s as exciting as it gets in her job. Most of her
days are spent with blueprints and wiring specs, and tedious measurements that
I cannot fathom.
That may sound dull as dirt to you, and usually I would
agree. But when she started talking about railroad switches I became absurdly
excited, and started pelting her with questions.
The reason? An underground rail system exists in my current
WIP, and I had realized that an understanding of wires and rail switches were critical to one specific plot point. But it meant asking some specific, quirky
questions, and neither books nor the internet were answering those questions.
Behold the expert!
Sometimes you must to talk to an expert, because:
will know things that don’t show up in the books (or websites)
can make sense of the technical jargon us “normal” people don’t get
can tell you what happens in a “what if” situation, that is not in the books
and – typically – is what writers need to know so we can complicate our
NOTE: If you are going to interview an expert, don’t go into
it blindly as I did! Make sure you know basic terminology at least, and have a
list of pertinent, articulate questions on hand. My friend was very forgiving
of my blundering; but then she’s known me for years. J
This is quite possibly the oldest rule in the writing
handbook. You want to learn how to give life to your characters and your world?
Start by observing life.
people watcher. Dare to be almost creepy in your people-watching (but please,
don’t do anything that would get you arrested). There will be times when you’ll
want to jot down notes (see next research tip), but sometimes you’ll want to
just lay all the paper aside, put the cell phone on mute, and take the ear buds
out of your ears, and just……watch. An ability to do this, I think, and do it
consistently, is one of the things that separates the True Writers from the
If you’re like me, you’ve killed several small forests worth
of paper for your writing notebooks, and the Amazon Tree Fairies will show up
at your door any moment with a warrant for your arrest. There is such a thing
as too much paper, I guess, but judging by the state of my library (read: my
whole house), I haven’t reached my pain threshold on that one yet.
When you learn to people-watch – I mean really observe
people, not just watch them
like a TV show and be sneeringly amused – then you’re ready to take notes on
what you hear and see. And then add them to the notes from all these books and websites
you’ve culled through. This will be your almanac for all
persnickety details pertaining to your story.
Your notebook should include most, or possibly all, of
synopsis of your work-in-progress
original hook (you’ll want to revisit this one now and then)
of characters, locations, key items or groups in your WIP
descriptions, plot notes, timelines & maps (more on that next time)
printed out from the web
and pertinent facts
and notes from interviews
observations, jotted down from people-watching
down snatches of conversation
The dialogue exercise is key, for a lot of reasons, as
dialogue can be such an elusive thing to nail down properly. But that is fodder
for another post.
The old-school schoolmarm in me cringes at including this,
but I have learned recently that this is far too valuable a tool to pass up. Is
Pinterest a real time waster? It can be. Oh boy, can it ever.
BUT – just like Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and other social
networks – it can also be a powerful tool.
Screencap from one of my many pinboards related to my work-in-progress: underground architecture,
industrial staircases, warehouses, bunkers. Fun stuff that I wouldn't understand without a visual.
Pinterest is a visual smorgasbord. The whole point to the
site is to find visual representations of (and links to) those things we love,
admire, wish for, or want to make, bake, cook, build, sew, knit, paint or draw.
OR WRITE, as the case may be. For writers, Pinterest can be an absolute
playground when it comes to really nailing down those visual realities of what
you’re trying to communicate.
Screencap from another pinboard - this one for characters. You notice I've already got most of the
names and/or titles in place. I know most people cast their characters from the current Hollywood roster;
I prefer to cull through photos of real, anonymous people with a different kind of soul in their eyes.
I won’t lie. PInterest has helped me out of several
storyboarding issues lately, including several major hangups with my WIP. In
fact, I was about ready to abandon it, because my plot was sagging due to my
inadequate understanding of some very technical points regarding architecture,
engineering, and mechanical details. I had done the research. I had put in the
time. But since I am neither an architect, an engineer, nor an expert on
industrial machines, I couldn’t pull together all those details into an
environment I understood, a realm that I, the writer, could actually see.
Enter the following helpful smorgasbord:
You know when you know what something looks like, but don't know what it's called?
Yeah. This is another reason why I have 21 pinboards.
I have 21 boards, and the 13 largest ones are all indelibly
connected to a specific writing project. Even the “Storyboard Boneyard” - which
is where I put photos that don’t belong anywhere special, but I know I’ll want
them later – has it’s own special character. More than that, a pattern is
beginning to emerge there…of what, I’m not sure, but I have no doubt a new
project will grow out of it. Possibly several.
Next stop on the Visual Storyboarding tour.....TIMELINES.
Specifically, of the linear, Vonnegut, and jellybean sort. And maybe a few others.
Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? Let me know in the comments!
And as always....THANKS FOR READING!!!!