Story boarding

In my previous blog, I put forward the view that a writer should know his/her story before he/she starts writing. Once a writer has a story concept, a character with a goal, a source of conflict, and stakes at risk then they have basic ingredients for a story. But as any chef knows, ingredients can be put together in a million different ways to produce very different cuisine.

For some writers the ingredients are enough for them to start writing and see where their characters take them. And some very successful authors write this way. For me, there are still too many different paths a story could take and I need to feel out which is best path before I commit to write.

There are lots of ways a writer can do this: working on character  sketches and story lines for each of the main characters, identifying the key scenes, obstacles  and story turns that will impact the characters, and working back from desired ending. My favourite approach is story boarding –mapping out the key elements of the story line on scene cards.

There are many different ways you can do this. You can use a whiteboard marked out into four equal vertical sections, being Act 1, Act 2 (i), Act 2(ii), and Act 3. Scenes can then be added using post it notes to each area of the board as the scene ideas unfold.

An alternative approach is to use 5 x 3 cards and lay them out on the floor, or on a cork board.

Or you can use a powerful program like Scrivener to do the same thing . This is the cork board view of Scrivener for the first Act of my book, Alien Hothouse. Each card is colour coded to tell me the point of view character for each scene. Scrivener is an amazingly powerful piece of software for any writer and my chosen medium for writing all my books. But the purpose of my blog today is not sing the praises of this software, but to explain the storyboarding approach.


Alternatively, you can use storyboarding  software designed for screenwriters. I have experimented with one of these products, Plot Control 2. Here is same first act mapped out under Plot Control 2. (There is also a further version – Plot control 3 that allows the main headings to be modified)


The main difference between using this approach and a cork board is that the scenes are entered under twelve different captions:

  • Opening scene
  • Setup
  • Inciting Incident
  • Movement to Resolution
  • Plot Point One
  • Act 2: Tier 1
  • Midpoint
  • Act 2: Tier 2
  • Plot Point 2
  • Climax
  • Resolution
  • End Scene

Of course, if you wanted to use the same kind of structure in Scrivener it is quite easy to do so. You simply set up the twelve structural elements as though they were twelve  chapters. As a personal preference,  I like to use Plot Control 2 to ‘mess about’ with the scenes until I have the makings of the story and then I set up the the appropriate scene structure in Scrivener.

For my latest novel, I have taken the process one step further by turning the scene cards into a twenty page ‘treatment’ by adding further detail to the scenes. It is a bit like layering in further elements of detail as the story gets clearer in your mind. Hopefully, this should make the writing process more efficient.

No one can tell you which writing approach is right for you. But if you haven’t looked at storyboarding you might like to try it. You don’t have to use expensive software. You can use a pack of cards or post-it notes on a whiteboard, or  Scrivener. The approach is the same. It gives you a helicopter view of your story.

4 thoughts on “Story boarding

  1. Looked you up. You certainly are prolific. Can I just ask if science fiction requires sensitivity readers? If so, would it get in the way of your writing?

  2. I’m not sure why the sensitivity of readers would get in the way of writing sci-fi. There are so many different sub-genre of sci-fi that there is something to satisfy each type of reader. You just have to find what suits your emotional needs. Sci-fi stories can range emotionally from horror (e.g. Shelly’s Frankenstein), to dystopian (Hunger Games), to romantic adventures (John Carter), and to children’s stories (E.T.). What makes sci-fi different is that explores how humanity behaves under extraordinary circumstances of culturally and scientifically different environments.

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