One of the things I’m asked all the time is “how do I start?” And this can be a tricky question to answer because no two writers will ever write the same way. The way we each need to tell our stories will differ from our experiences, how we write, and what we like to read.
But the structure is something that will exist for every writer, so today I wanted to share one of the best ways to get started: by storyboarding.
If you wanted the behind-the-scenes features on DVD’s as avidly as I have, you’ll know exactly what I mean by storyboarding. It’s essentially the process of laying out an entire story in words and pictures in front of you so you can move things around, take scenes out, put scenes in, and play around as you need.
It works just as well for writing a book or a short story or an essay as it does for a movie. The same rules apply: you can move things around, take scenes out, put scenes in, and play around as you need. You can always come back to them at any point in the writing process and change things up. It’s flexible but organized and can keep all your ideas in one place, freeing you from the overwhelm of keeping them in your head.
We’re going to walk through the process of storyboarding from start to finish so you can get started on telling the story you need to.
Step 1: Get Everything Out of Your Head
When you’re just starting out and have a garbled up idea of what you want your story to look like, it can help to get scenes or ideas out of your head and onto paper. When I’m storyboarding, I like to use 3×5 cards. I normally write down a scene or a thought on the blank front, and make any additional notes on the lined back. Keep writing until all your thoughts and ideas are on their own cards.
Step 2: Group Similar Ideas or Scenes
This is fairly straightforward. Put like with like. Scenes that need to happen at the same time or place go in one pile. Similar ideas or thoughts can go together in piles. If you have a series of events that are all triggered by each other, like the climax of your story or a flashback scene, group those in their own piles too.
As you do this, you’ll start to see natural breaks. These natural breaks will help you later formulate chapters and sections.
Step 3: Start Ordering
Here’s where the fun happens! Go group by group and start to lay out each card in the order you want the scenes or ideas to appear. You can do this vertically or horizontally, either way works, just lay them out all in a row so you can see each idea if you’re standing over them, looking down.
Rearrange as much as you need, write more cards if you notice gaps, and add additional notes to the back of the cards if you want to remember something. If you notice gaps in a scene or idea but aren’t sure what belongs there, still create a new card and write in a different color ink that you want to come back and figure out what new piece of your story belongs there.
Step 4: Color Code Till You’re Blue in the Face
I’ll start this step off with a caveat: you may or may not need to color code. I like to, just to keep track of a variety of things:
- Where my characters are
- Whose Point of View the scene is being told from
- My word count for that scene once I’ve finished writing it
- If a scene is a flashback, a dream, or on the main timeline
- If I want to remember a certain detail and reference back to it in another scene
And there’s lots of other things you can keep track of too. But color coding will help you keep all the details a little less messy and little more organized.
Step 5: Pick a Scene, Any Scene!
Pick one scene. It can be the first scene, the last scene, or a random one in the middle. Sit down at your writing space and write it. It doesn’t need to be perfect and it may well change as you go through your story. But just get it down on paper or in a Word or Google Doc. You’ll be on your way to writing your story in no time.