Friday, June 15, 2007

One Writer's Approach to Taming the Novel: Storymapping

I first learned about storyboarding years ago when pursuing my B.S. in news-editorial journalism from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

The idea behind the technique was deceptively simple: frame out each key scene of a commercial from its opening shot to its close. Include key characters/images/product shots/emotions that drive each scene. Use the storyboard as a visual aid for your team, your boss, and, ultimately, your client, when the time comes to sell him/her on the concept.

Actually constructing a storyboard was another matter. We were limited to 9-12 boxes, which meant you better be clear about how you wanted to convey your product before you sat down. The limitations of the "commercial" meant that to be successful we had to learn how to distill the story by cutting the fluff.

Funny thing how the creative process works. The technique's brilliant on so many different levels; so applicable to children's book writing. Yet, I didn't think about how it might be applied to my own writing until recently when children's book writer Patricia Malone shared her version of storyboarding with fellow writers.

Pat's approach is called storymapping. Instead of the traditional way--stringing together neat rows of boxes (each row stacked upon the other, each box representing a new scene), Pat uses a free-form approach. She works large (marking up a 4x4 sheet of art paper or better), drawing stick figures and props to represent the main action taking place in each scene, adding in mountain ranges, rivers, forests, cities, legends.

To promote creative thought, curved lines connect each scene instead of straight. To foster right-brain activity and excite the muse, colored pencils are used for illustrations and notes.

The result is a storymap that wends its way from one corner of the paper to the next. Each character receives his/her own road upon the map. At times, the characters travel together. At times they branch off on their own. In the end, a visual journey is depicted, one suitable for reference and inspiration during the revision process, and ideal for a visual aid after the book is published.

Pat's approach so intrigued me that one of the first things I did after returning home the day she explained it was to dig out my art supplies.

In a couple of hour's time, I mapped out my entire fantasy novel.

This is huge, because ever since a slew of characters walked onto the stage of my story demanding more of the spotlight (and making a compelling case to do so), I've re-visioned KM multiple times in an attempt to work them in.

One of the most difficult aspects of these re-visions has been trusting that eventually everyone's throughlines would weave together in a meaningful way.

Thanks to Pat's storymapping approach, they finally did.

No comments: