If you’re writing fiction, you better know where your story is going before you actually start writing it. Sometimes an idea alone can be sufficient fuel to start writing. After a short while, though, and especially in the long term, the initial excitement wears off, and if you don’t have anything to keep your motivation levels even, the project is left unfinished. That’s not to mention that coherence can suffer greatly without a set structure. The key to keep the drive alive and the story consistent is planning what you’re going to do ahead of time, and the larger the project, the more crucial this is.
That’s why today we’re talking about how to storyboard. As fiction writers know, making even a tiny change can create a butterfly effect that impacts the antire story from start to finish, and in turn triggers changes that need to be made, which themselves trigger other changes, and so on. A storyboard will help you input those changes and write the story more easily by creating a foundation the plot will be built on. Think of it as mad libs, where 95% is blank space.
The Bare Bones of Your Story: the Beginning, Middle, and End
To start off, create three cards: the beginning, middle and end of your hero’s journey. These are crucial, and the rest of the plot will be written essentially to serve these beats. If you’re wondering “Why cards?”, it’s because they’re convenient to switch around or remove when necessary. This way, each part of your story is separate from the others, and structured in an intuitively obvious way.
On the “beginning” card, write who the character is, the setting they’re in, and what they want to achieve. For extra credit, write it in a way where a character trait of the hero is an obstacle in achieving the goal. This part of the story is where you set up most of the elements of the trial they’re going to go through.
By the time we arrive at the “middle” card, the character has already set on their journey to achieve what they want (save the kidnapped princess, return to their home planet, et cetera), and at this point they encounter their largest obstacle (so far). For the first time in the story, they fully understand what they’re up against, and they’re completely unprepared to face it. Often enough, this will result in a loss of some sort, and what follows is the lowest point in the story.
The “end” card marks the point where all the storylines are brought to their conclusions, and every loose end is tied into a ribbon. The hero achieves what they set out to do, or, if you’re feeling subversive, they reject the original goal in lieu of something else.
Constructing the Plot
Once you have the above three signposts planned out, the rest of the work will be building bridges to connect these points in the plot.
Start with what connects the beginning and the middle. What is the first hurdle on the path that the hero set out on? At this point, a lot of stories will set up a test that the hero fails — miserably. It dons on them what a difficult path they’re on. Cue training montage.
Connecting the middle and the end: as stated above, this is usually the lowest point in the story (unless your story has a downer ending — then it’s the high point). In any case, it’s what comes after a big turn in the plot. A truth has been revealed, and the hero must deal with the consequences. If they’ve been hiding something or something was being hidden from them, this is the point where it’s all revealed, and then atoned with.
The Extra Bits
So let’s imagine you know that you want to write a story about a middle-age recent divorcee who gets back into the dating game in a new and unfamiliar world. She joins Tinder, finds out about texting etiquette, and that guys don’t really bring flowers on the first date anymore.
So you’ve got the basic conflict down, the beginning, middle and end practically write themselves, but you’ve got all these other ideas of stuff that happens that don’t really obviously fit anywhere. Like a proposal on the first date, or a Mrs. Doubtfire two-dates-at-the-same-time moment.
First, the bad news: you’re going to have to inevitably lose some of them. The good news is that lots of them can find their place in the story, you just have to figure out the right angle to present them. They can be reworked into other scenarios to serve the story appropriately. Keep them in the back of your head when constructing the plot, and they might become the solution to a problem you encounter, if worked a bit.
As much all of the above seems as a paint-by-numbers approach to storytelling, there’s a lot more freedom in there than it seems at first glance. You shouldn’t feel confined to any of these rules if you feel like breaking them. The top-down approach to storytelling is the most structured and organized way to do it, but it’s definitely not for everyone. However, if you’re having trouble sustaining a project on a single spark of an idea, or need a tool to segment your work, it might be the time to try this out.