Yesterday, I attended a meeting of my local RWA chapter where our guest speaker was Shelley Bradley, author of eleven novels. Her latest book, Strip Search, an erotic romance, came out last month and is currently available in bookstores. Shelley is also one of the founding members of Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter of RWA.
Shelley talked about storyboarding, a concept I had heard in connection with film, but not fiction writing. I arrived, expecting to see a poster board covered with photographs and magazine pictures. There was a poster board, but it was covered in colored post-it notes. I later learned that working with photos is often called collaging.
Shelley began by explaining that the foam poster board we were looking at represented a 100,000-word novel. She had divided it into 20 equal squares, symbolizing the 20 chapters she anticipated the novel would have. Those 20 chapters will be further broken down into between 54 and 62 scenes.
She uses the four colors of post-it notes to represent different things. Yellow for the heroine's POV, blue for the hero's POV, orange for one other major character's POV, and green for a subplot. Each post-it represents ONE scene. Each post-it contains the date/time and place of the scene, giving her a visual timeline. The post-it also includes the major action and the change represented by the scene. Every scene needs an outcome.
This system gives her logistical continuity for the plot. Shelley does not attempt to use the board for emotional elements (ie motivation). The narrative in her synopsis follows the emotional arc. She said she goes back and forth between the board and the synopsis, weaving the character growth and plot development together.
What I really liked about her board was that you could see at a glance the mix of POV. I counted, and the board we were using had 16 scenes from the heroine's POV and 15 scenes from the hero's POV with the rest of the scenes relating to either the third POV or the subplot. It was a great visual for the mix and the flow of scenes.
The storyboard also helps with continuity. If Shelley needs a gun in Scene 34, she can place the arrival of the gun on the post-in for Scene 12. The storyboard also keeps track of the day and time and place so you don't suddenly discover you've skipped three days by accident (something I've done on occasion).
She also said that, when she's tempted to move to more than 20 chapters, she's usually screwing up her pacing. She goes in and collapses scenes together to get them into the 20-chapter novel. This speeds up her action and makes the novel more exciting. Combining post-it notes automatically makes for a tighter novel.
Shelley said she began this system because she has limited time to write, and it usually occurs in small (30 minute to one hour) segments. When she is taking her daughter to gymnastics, she can pull a post-it off the board and take it with her. She works on writing just that scene. She doesn't need to bring pages of manuscript with her, and she knows exactly what she needs to write. She just got back from a week's vacation. She took her Alphasmart and a baggie of post-it notes with her and was able to finish the appropriate chapters without the mess of manuscript pages or a laptop to manage.
Shelley admitted that creating the storyboard takes time and thought. However, she mentioned one benefit I would not have considered. If you know how your novel ends, you can work backward toward the beginning. She described it like driving from Dallas to Baltimore. If you know how many days you have, you can draw your map from Dallas to Baltimore OR from Baltimore to Dallas.
I've often blogged about being an absolute "pantser," as in writing by the seat of my pants. However, right now, I'm faced with revising and expanding a manuscript. I think that even a pantser like me can benefit from this method in doing a revision and expansion.
And, who knows . . . maybe I'll try writing a novel using this method.
My thanks to Shelley for her generosity in allowing me to write about her presentation. You can find her website at www.shelleybradley.com.