A storyboard is supposed to be a visual representation of a script, play, novel, comic book…Whatever the venue, the storyboard is the writer’s visual guide to plot, characters, scenes, the entire banquet.
Some years ago, I remember Rob telling me about the storyboard at LucasFilm that dealt with Indiana Jones. It was, he said, probably fifty feet long, with multiple paths jotting out from each entry. In comparison, my storyboard is kindergarten.
The yellow cutouts at the tops of the first, second, and fourth columns and midway down the fifth column are part headings. I just added that fourth part last night because I realized that the event happening at the end of part three s actually plot point two in the story. If this were a movie, PP2 would be the event that pivots the story in a new direction – usually the last thirty minutes or so of a film.
The yellow index card on the far right is the pitch. It reads: A serial killer. An animal communicator. A homicide detective who talks to the dead. When the lives of these three individuals slam together, nothing is what it appears to be.
U Я miNe started because of a conversation with my agent in August of 2014. I played around with the idea of a dog walker who is being stalked by a serial killer. Nothing too original there. But the dog walker is a young woman who communicates with animals- the dead and the living – and whose relationships have gone south because of it. The detective investigating this whole thing is the only son of famous mediums , who communicates with spirits to help him solve his cases. His personal relationships have suffered because of it.
I use a different colored Post-It for each viewpoint character. Green belongs to the dog walker, Laurie Brautigan, 27. Lavender is for the detective, Nick Finley, 33. Hot pink is for the killer, Gabe Angeles. In retrospect, I wonder if I should have written this novel from the points of view of the dogs involved in the story – Maia, a Border Collie mix who belongs to Laurie; Dusty, a Rhodesian Ridgeback who witnessed the murder of his human, Donna O’Connor; Randy, an aging Golden Retriever who belongs to Laurie’s closest friend, Colleen Larson; and Fiddler, the lab mix that belongs to the killer, a dog who is the love of his life. Now THAT would be original.
It might also be impossible to write.
That said, the dogs in the story are the ones who ultimately determine the ending. These dogs illustrate what animals can do when their instincts are harnessed, directed, and focused, and there are humans around them who can interpret their actions. There’s even a hamster in this story who witnessed the murder of his human and yielded his testimony to Laurie.
For me, the storyboard has become more essential over my thirty years as a novelist. I like that I can turn my head to the right and see the scenes laid out in order, all so tidy – and meanwhile, the kitchen in my actual home is falling apart, dishes piled in the sink, the fridge screaming for food. I like the fact that my storyboard is my anchor. It may not be a fifty-foot-long archetype like Indiana Jones, but it’s completely mine. My world, my good guys and bad guys, my love story, my psychic magic, my weirdness in hot pink, green, and lavender.
On these various squares of paper, I jot notes about the high points in each scene/chapter. It’s a great way to uncover your weaknesses as a writer. You look at those notes and think, Huh? Nothing happens. What am I doing? Way back when, someone at LucasFilm told Rob that a conflict must happen on every fifth page. In terms of a movie script, that’s every five minutes. When I discover I haven’t done that, I go back and rewrite.
The irony with this storyboard, though, is that I created it after the fact, during my rewrites instead of while I was writing the first draft. Back in October, about a month after I decided to go ahead with this idea, I decided to alter my structure. Instead of doing alternate point of view chapters, I did longer sections with a single viewpoint. I thought it worked.
But when my agent read my summary and the opening, he called and we talked about the story. He felt it lacked tension. “Trish, this is a stalker story, a kind of horror story. You need tension on every single page. Try it with alternate chapter viewpoints.” He made some more suggestions, I went back to the manuscript and realized he was right. I tore apart the manuscript and began rebuilding it, a step at a time, with the help of the storyboard.
This is my fortieth novel and doesn’t include novels I have ghostwritten or novels that have been sitting on my closet floor for twenty years. Isn’t the process supposed to get easier with practice? While some parts of the creative process of writing have gotten easier, other parts seem to have become more challenging. One thing I’m absolutely sure of now is that with my next novel, I’ll START with the storyboard; it won’t be a revision postscript. I will also do what I’ve done with most of my novels and DIDN’T do when I started this one: write the pitch for the story.