Tuesday, June 10, 2014

CNYRW Guest Speaker Susan Meier / Storyboarding Your Book

Susan Meier

Last Saturday, the CNY Romance Writers hosted Susan Meier, author of more than 60 books for Harlequin and Entangled Publishing.  Susan brought a lot of knowledge and humor to our afternoon, and presented, among other things, her method for storyboarding a novel.  For a visual writer like myself, storyboarding is ideal.  Everything is visible in nutshell form.  I've dabbled in storyboarding more and more these days, even as a pantser, because it's the easiest way to make certain I've formed a cohesive story.

What is Storyboarding?

Storyboarding is a concept taken from the film industry, where it's important not to waste time and resources filming something that's only going to be cut later due to pacing constraints.  Your time is money, too, and storyboarding can help you lay out your book's "bones."  This helps you spend your actual writing time in the important places.  For us writers, those are the inciting incident, turning points, climax, black moment, and resolution.  For romance in particular, it means plugging in the first kiss and/or love scenes, too.  Everything is laid out where it's going to happen.  You can use a large sheet of blank paper or, as I do, index cards on a cork board.  Then all you have to do is "knit" your book together, stopping at each point on your road map on the way to The End.

Storyboarding is just a more visual alternative to writing an outline of your book.  It's not written in stone (no pun intended), but it is a guide to help keep your book on track.

Storyboarding for Pantsers

If you're a pantser, and you worry about the excitement of writing being sapped by knowing the end of the book ahead of time, know this: everything you learn about writing a complete story internalizes in your head, the more you study it.  So chances are, if your book isn't expressly mapped out on paper, you're already beginning to do so in your head.  Storyboarding just puts it all out there on a paper or index cards, so you don't lose any of those great ideas, and you have somewhere to plug them when you get them.  The actual scenes are not yet written, so your pantser heart should be appeased.  Plotters could take it a step farther and enter as much about the scene as they like into the chart, so it works that way, too!

Chapter by Chapter

Susan uses the back side of a large monthly calendar - the kind you'd use as a desk blotter.  She divides the blank sheet into squares, one for each chapter, and then inputs all the details and where they need to happen.  It's a brilliant and portable snapshot of her book, and she was kind enough to hand around an actual storyboard for one of her books.

I do this a bit differently, using my trusty index cards and cork board:

This is the blank board for FIRE, Book Four in the Elemental Series.  The two cards in the bottom right corner stick around for every single book I write.  They illustrate Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which every writer should learn. Those are the building blocks for things a human being can't live without.  Take away one of them, and you have instant conflict for your character.

My version of the storyboard is a bit looser, because the cards can be rearranged if necessary.  It's still portable, because I can take the cards with me.  FIRE will probably have about sixteen chapters, so I'll need sixteen cards on my board.

Susan's method of plotting isn't the only way to write your book, of course, but it does help make certain that you can write the entire book, with all its necessary parts.  She had much more to say during this all-day workshop, but her method of storyboarding is one concept that resonated with me.  Susan is knowledgeable and funny, and it was a pleasure to have her at our chapter this month.

"Inspire that spark within yourself that desperately wants to write." - Susan Meier


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