Monday, June 22, 2009

Storyboards and Dangling Threads

What I'm reading: 8th Confession, by James Patterson

I've continued working with my modified story board, and I'm still liking it. I know there's nothing this method does that a computer program can't do – and perhaps do better – but I like the "change of media" approach.

Since last time, I've gone back and started another thing to track: Where. My chapters each contain at least two POV scenes (I haven't jumped on the Patterson bandwagon with 2-3 page "chapters" instead of scene breaks within chapters).

The colors on the storyboard tell me "who" at a glance. These are my larger stickies, and they summarize the plot points, and from which character's POV that scene takes place. I've got Green for Gordon, Pink for Megan, and Blue for Justin. I started with each character having a POV scene in each chapter, but as the mystery threads are demanding more page time, I've cut that back. Right now, Gordon, my small town police chief, has a scene in every chapter since chapter 8.

I can look at my board and see that his character wasn't on the page much at first – a brief introductory scene in chapter 1, and then he doesn't appear again until chapter 4. I may have to re-think that, because if he's the cop, he should be involved in solving the mystery. But there's no 'rule' about this – I've read a number of books where the detective won't show up for several chapters. I prefer not showing the villain's POV, and usually the 'delayed detective' scenario starts with showing the reader the crime. But until I finish writing this, I'm going to stick to my "good guy's POV" preference, and decide later if I need some more foreshadowing with my cop sooner.

Keep Reading...

The little stickies (no real color code for them) on my board are plot points or clues or things to remember. They start out on my idea board, then migrate to the plotting board as they're introduced. Once I've covered them, I can toss them. But I like the reminders that show me where a plot point was introduced. Right now, I have a little stickie reminding me to check the timeframe for the press conference. (And I'll admit, a lot of these little stickies actually get their start on the plotting board. Far be it from me to restrict what happens on the page to what I've stuck on my idea board. If something pops up, I'll make a note of it as I go.)

I'm hoping this visual approach will help me remember details. I've read some books where threads have been dropped, or attention to details was lacking. For example, a hero with a broken leg that's only a problem for him for the next chapter. Somehow, his cast seems to disappear. Making a note that I've given Megan a bump on the head and a sore wrist will make sure I deal with her injuries in a logical manner. If I need to, I can go back and increase or decrease the severity of the injury, but once it's established, I'm obligated to keep things consistent.

Another example: the power failure creating the plot point that there is total darkness. No moonlight, nothing. It's a great way to show some physical contact between hero and heroine, but when they take that a step further and are in the midst of making love, all of a sudden he can see the color of her eyes, or her smile. Nope. If it's dark, it's dark. Easy enough to research from a darkened bedroom. It's a minor hiccup, but it shows inconsistency.

Or the importance of finding out if a character has a surgically implanted locator chip. It's stressed as being a vital clue that could provide a lead to the villain. But we never see if they actually found one in the character. And if they did, somewhere between the pages, did the chip give them the information they needed? They ended up not needing it, but for me, it was a dropped thread and made me go back to see if I missed it. I tried. Several times, but never found it. (Advantage of e-books: you can search for words!)

Adding authenticity, local color, interesting details, can connect with a reader. But when is something window dressing, and when does it help the story? A reader likes to see there's a payoff for remembering those details. And a mystery writer tries to hide the important ones!

Having read Lee Child's most recent release, Gone Tomorrow, I'm impressed by how he uses every detail. When a fellow passenger rambles on about the different kinds of subway cars in New York, it's not idle conversation. That tidbit shows up front and center later on. And even the little things, that might not be plot points, such as the origin of the use of "Hello" to answer the phone will appear, letting the reader know that the character was paying attention, too.

I can't pretend to be of Child's caliber, but I hope by noting little details, such as the fact that Justin carries a handkerchief, I'll make sure it shows up again. And that since I've established limited cell phone coverage in some of my scene locations, I don't have the phone work when I need them and not when I don't.

As for my new "Where" stickies: I'm jotting down where each scene takes place. It's important to keep things moving, not only with the pace of the story, but also the action of the plot. A change of scenery keeps things from stagnating. This way, I can tell exactly where my characters are in each scene at a glance, and decide if I need to move them around more. Since my characters aren't always in the same place at the same time, I'm less likely to lose one.

Tomorrow, my guest is author Skhye Moncrief, who's sharing some fascinating tidbits about things medieval. Be sure to drop by and find out how to win some summer reading material.


Anonymous said...

This is very cool, Terry. I had a grad school professor who pinned pieces of paper to her drapes - - I like your way better.

I did a story board with my first rs. I found the TACTILE aspect of it helped me quite a bit. I'm a totally visual person. But then I'll also admit to having separate folders on my ipod for my lead characters. : )

Anonymous said...

My all time favorite in print blooper was when a hapless character had an unanticipated gender reassignment. I finished the book looking in vain to find out if the author did it intentionally. Apparently not.


Terry Odell said...

Drue - I've got blinds in my office, no drapes! I don't pretend this is the "only" method I'm using -- I still have my character notes and a spreadsheet or two. And thanks for mentioning tactile. I think that's a big part of it as well.

Terry Odell said...

Elena -- I did read a series where a character had a baby girl at the end of one book and it was a boy in the next.

And I'm still trying to figure out the reappearing barrettes in a book I just read. The author didn't do an effective job of showing whether or not time had elapsed, so when they were first taken off at her house, and reappeared at his, I was lost. Mistake on the author's part, or had more time than I thought gone by.

I don't recall whether the author made a point of showing those flashy barrettes as a daily accessory or if she'd just put them on with that particular outfit.

Katie Reus said...

Wow! Your organization is very impressive! I keep character charts and work a story outline as my story unfolds, but I've never done a story board quite that big before :)

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Katie -- but I think the organization is an after-effect of using the storyboard. You'll notice my boxes are only filled in for what I've already written!

Amber Polo said...

Great board. Mine is only the size of a large poster divided into 30 squares for chapters. But the colored stickies worked perfectly. I also used stickies for scenes I wanted to write.
And a color coded chapter by chapter outline.
I guess I'm visual
or too old to hold it all in my head at one time.

Terry Odell said...

Mine's only as big as it is because the foamcore came in a package of 3. I cut one in half, and turned them sideways and taped a small half to each end of the full sized board. They will fold closed. The third board was left over, and after PJ Parrish's workshop at Sleuthfest, I realized I could just note scenes or ideas without actually doing the dreaded "plot the whole book in advance" thing.

Theresa Ragan said...

I like this, Terry. I did sort of the same thing on a word document for my last book. As I finished each scene I wrote a one sentence blurb and highlighted in color of POV character. I like yours though because it's right there at all times, big and easy to reference!

Thanks for sharing!

Terry Odell said...

Theresa - this is my first venture away from Word or Excel for plotting. (And I can plot or brainstorm when the power goes out!)

Teresa Reasor said...

I'm also a storyboarder. Since most of my plots are braided plots, I really need the story board to help me keep track of everything.
I recently wrote an article about storyboarding for the Smoky Romance Writers Newsletter.
I'd be happy to share it with you if you're interested.
It gives you some other ways to do it. And even a way to do it on the computer.
I don't know how I'd ever keep track of all my plot lines without it.
Write on,
Teresa Reasor

Terry Odell said...

Thanks Teresa -

Sounds interesting, although I love the idea of this system NOT being on my computer!

Skhye said...

I've seen storyboards for years. You know, my luck would be I'd have the sticky notes up and in place, then my ceiling fan would blow them down... It's the subtropics in here. And then, I'm too lazy to stop and set up the stickies... But I think this is an excellent way to "see" one's character growth. Great post.

Skhye said...

That would be "down here in Houston". LOL. Sorry for the confusion. The kittens are tearing my house apart!

Terry Odell said...

Skhye, I'm in central Florida. Ceiling fans run pretty much 24/7 (I got the 'extra sticky' variety notes!). So far, so good.

Since I do the main stickies after I write the scene, it's not really a big deal. I figure I can use them for the synopsis, since my best laid plans to do it on the computer die out before chapter 3. :-)

Anonymous said...

Terry, I've just started using your method for plotting my new crime thriller novel (my third).

I'm using two walls in my office rather than foam board. I picked a different color Post-It for each of my four main characters (with green for my hero and fuscia for my villain). On one wall, I have characteristics and plot "beats" for each of them arranged in their own columns. Slightly offset to the left in each column is a question I know I need to answer (such as, what's the villain's day job? What's the next crime I haven't thought of?) I've always found that being able to identify these unanswered questions helps avoid writer's block. If you know what you need to come up with next, you can research and brainstorm and fill that hole. If you can't immediately answer one question, you can move onto another one you've identified.

On the other wall, I've made several rows, divided with painter's tape, from as high as I can reach to the floor, which will be the "outline" of the book. I have an opening scene idea at the beginning of the first row, and some orange stickies with the major "surprises" of the books near the beginning, middle and end.

I will move the character stickies to the other wall as I decide in what order to reveal the information about each of them.

Also, there's a blob of stickies with interesting ideas/notions that may or may not find a place in the book, stuff like "freegans," and "Identity theft."

I really, really like the method so far. I have never used an outline or wanted to, but for my first novel, I did have the whole plot arc worked out in my head. For the second, I didn't, and I spent a lot of time cursing myself for not writing when the reason was that I didn't have the thing plotted yet, just an initial idea and characters. I wasted a lot of scenes and time feeling around that way, though I did eventually land the plane.

Thanks for your posts. Can't wait to read more.

Bryan Gilmer, author, Felonious Jazz

Terry Odell said...

Bryan - congrats on having wall space in your office! I think everyone works out a system, and the important thing to remember is there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to write, nor is there any obligation to stick with one method for one's entire career. Each book probably brings new challenges.

Did anyone see the episode of Castle where he had pages hung to a clothesline in his office?

Cops use whiteboards to organize their cases; they work well for writers too.

Should I ever have a big enough office ....

Cathy said...

Love your idea. I've used poster board for timelines and character development - writing in different colored markers - but your idea is so much more flexible! The stickies can move from timeline to plot - saves time and rewriting. I'm also a visual person and keeping track of how often characters appear by color is a great idea.

Terry Odell said...

Cathy -
Yes, the sticky notes give you the 'freedom' to know it's easy to move things around. Easier than cut and paste (where I cut and forget to paste, or copy instead of cut and have things in too many places or not at all)

Cathy said...

Exactly my problem with computer work. Plus, flipping between screens makes it tough to keep my place. I'll try your suggestion on the closet doors of the guest room this weekend!


Terry Odell said...

Cathy, you'll have to let me know how it worked for you.

Anita Birt said...

Terry, thanks for the story board information. I write on and on keeping everything in my head - not a good idea. I shall try your system and see how I like it.