How Do I Plot? Storyboarding and Collaborative Plotting of Plots

Over on my tumblr, a wonderful Anon got right to the point and asked: "how to develop stable plots." And this is what I said.


Ahhh, a great and difficult question!! I’m gonna give you a novel-length answer. Hope that’s okay!

Stable plots come about in different ways for different people. Some people like to plot every last detail out in an outline or on a visual storyboard before they even start writing. Those wonderful people are way out of my league: storyboards only happen way later for me.

For me, I honestly write novels in a series of scattered scenes; the overarching plot might have a vague idea in my mind by the way I start connecting these scenes, but ultimately, my biggest lift when novel-writing is about somehow weaving all these scattered scenes together.

This involves plugging in transition and connective scenes, and then doing a huge edit that, in truth, is more of a total rewrite. That way, I can smooth out the writing style and pacing, as well as making sure I’m not repeating information or such from the stitched-together scenes.

How did I do this with my debut novel LUNAV? I wish I still had the pictures from my old phone, but alas.

I storyboarded! I got index cards and colored markers, tape and my living room wall (my fiancee was delightful about letting me do this; she even encouraged it and was central to helping me figure it all out!).

What did I do with said markers and index cards? Stable plotting! (And I think this storyboarding can work even for those of us who outline before we write, too, by the way.)

Basically, I made an index card describing each scene briefly and posted them to the wall in chronological order.

A wooden door drawn in a storybook starts to emit a golden glow from its handle, projecting out of the book and over Henry's shoulder. The teenage boy wearing a black coat and signature red-striped scarf, turns to watch the stream of light touch a keyhole on a wooden desk drawer behind him. From the ABC show Once Upon a Time. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

A wooden door drawn in a storybook starts to emit a golden glow from its handle, projecting out of the book and over Henry's shoulder. The teenage boy wearing a black coat and signature red-striped scarf, turns to watch the stream of light touch a keyhole on a wooden desk drawer behind him. From the ABC show Once Upon a Time. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Underneath each scene, I posted three index cards. On these cards, I used different color markers to indicate important things about the scene: the color codes were “world-building”, “character development”, and something like “relationships.” For each category, I wrote about what the scene conveyed.

For world-building, I wrote things like “Lunamez massacre discussed” or “Dreaming explained.”

For characters, I wrote things like “Jax backstory” or “Sadie passes as a boy in the human Inn.”

This way, if I gave Jax a backstory in two different scenes, I would see it immediately. Similarly, if I never talked about Jax’s history, I would notice that, as well, because his name would be missing from the “character” index cards.

For plot-specific things, I also drew arrows between each scene/each pair of index cards. If I couldn’t draw that arrow -- if the scenes didn’t make sense next to each other, if the pacing was wrong, or I needed to move the cards/scenes around -- I knew something was amuck with my plot.

This storyboarding really helped me, because it combined the parts of me that learn visually (storyboard), from reading (the written words on the index cards), and kinesthetically (being able to touch and move the cards as though I were reaching into my world and moving my characters and settings around).

Of course, this method won’t work for everyone because we all have different processes, but it reallllly helped me.

As much or more than the board itself, it helped me to show my friends the storyboard. They were able to find holes that I couldn’t (because I was so close to it), in ways that would have taken much longer/might have been harder to spot reading the entire novel.

Wearing a blue plaid shirt and tie, Winn Schott from Supergirl offers a high five to Barry Allen, in his Flash suit with his hood down, as Supergirl watches them both. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Wearing a blue plaid shirt and tie, Winn Schott from Supergirl offers a high five to Barry Allen, in his Flash suit with his hood down, as Supergirl watches them both. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Collaborating about my plot with my friends and my fiancee was -- and still is -- indescribably helpful. They are not only patient with my oddities and writing insecurities, but they are beyond indulgent, insightful, and creative with their assistance. I couldn’t do it without them!

So, I suppose, I’m saying: storyboarding may help, whether you’re an outliner or a scene-jumper like me. And, friends who are writers/who love reading and who love you are absolutely invaluable.

Feel free to reach out with more questions: this is a great one!!

You got this :)