Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Storyboarding: A Useful Writing Management Tool

Story Steps 10

Suppose you decided to use my Story Steps to get started on your latest project. Let’s recap them:

  • the idea for a story 
  • a theme or message you want the reader to take away 
  • compelling characters 
  • a working title 
  • the essential story ingredients of a story–protagonist, antagonist, situation, motivation, goal, and conflict 
  • appropriate character names 
  • writing a narrative synopsis

Today, we’re going to look at storyboarding, a technique that helps with the actual writing of your book. For starters, let’s look at the definition:

Storyboarding is a sequence of pictures created to communicate a desired general visual appearance. Although storyboarding has been traditionally associated with cinema, its beginnings can be traced back to Leonardo da Vinci, who put his ideas on a wall and examined the layout prior to producing the final painting. (She Sat, He Stood: What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk?)

Popularity of Storyboarding

Storyboarding has become popular in many professions. If you’ve seen any documentaries on making a film, such as The Mandalorian docuseries, you’ve seen examples of story boards. I discovered storyboarding way back when I took a web design course. It made me realize one doesn’t have to be an artist to utilize the story board concept.

It helps to own a computer and have access to the Internet which abounds with pictures of everything you might need. Need a character? Plenty of photos of all types and ages of people are available. Need the picture of a space ship? The photo of a Bernese Mountain dog? There are millions of photos from which to chose as you visualize your story.

Writing Management Tool

Here’s a little background on my storyboarding evolution. I used the old fashioned 3” x 5” index card system for a long, long time. What is this system? You use an index card for each scene. This tool helps you see the big picture in small doses.

The size of the cards makes it easy to shift them around as you’re trying to decide the best way to tell your story. You can design them to reveal whatever information you want. And of course, the neat typed cards often end up with hand written notations all over them.

My transition to computer generated cards was gradual. At first, I wrote story information on the cards. I would cut character photos from magazines or newspapers and copy photos of period clothing from library books, journals, or my own library. All this pictorial information was kept in file folders because the index cards were too small for them.

Then, I learned how to set the page size and run off computer generated 3x5 cards. At first, I continued as before and the cards were text only. But as I became comfortable using computer graphics, I started adding small pictures pertinent to the scene: a carriage, a pretty hat for my heroine to wear, or a piece of antique furniture. Items that helped set the scene for me.

Here’s a sample index card from Scene Two of Butterfly Bride (Saderra Publishing, 2019).

As you can see, the lack of artistic talent doesn’t prevent a writer from using this technique. Storyboarding is a fun way to better visualize your story and it’s easy to tailor storyboarding to your needs. 

However you chose to use it, storyboarding is an excellent writing management tool.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Narrative Synopsis: A Tool for Story Writing

Story Step 9

Writing a short narrative synopsis of my story is another step I take in this process. What’s a narrative synopsis? According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, a narrative is

  • a spoken or written account of connected events

while a synopsis is

  • a brief summary or general survey of something.

In my mind, a narrative synopsis is a summary of the connected events that will take place in my story. I like to think of the synopses as short stories of my novels written in a compelling format that will catch editor or reader interest.

Preliminary Writing Tool      

Many writers dislike writing a synopsis and save it for last. I followed that school of thought in the beginning of my writing career. I didn’t write the synopsis until I finished the manuscript. Eventually, I began writing a short narrative synopsis during the early stages of my story writing. Now I see the synopsis as a powerful preliminary writing tool, because it makes you pare the story down to the essentials. 

More importantly, it unveils the theme.

How can a synopsis do all this? Think about it. If you’re planning a 100,000 word novel and condense it into 500-1,000 words, you have to strip the story down to its essence. The exercise helps you find the dreaded “theme,” because to find the core of the story, you must think in terms of one overriding idea which, of course, is the theme.

Components of a Synopsis 

The seven essential ingredients I mentioned in Story Steps Seven (protagonist, antagonist, situation, motive, goal, conflict, and resolution) offer a good starting point for writing a narrative synopsis. It’s also helpful to have major turning points or plot points in mind. These are the obstacles or events that are going to cause your characters to “turn away” from the path they were following. It always helps to have some idea of why your main character(s) can’t reach their goals easily.

Remember this is a short story of your novel. It should contain the prerequisite beginning, middle, and end.

A narrative synopsis provides material from which to draw your pitch for that all important editor or agent meeting. Or to write the 100 words or less ad. Or hook visitors into reading an excerpt at your website. Or write press releases and advertisements.

Six Reasons I Love the Narrative Synopsis

Here are six reasons I love to write the narrative synopsis:

  • It gives me the opening paragraph or hook for my query letter.
  • It makes me think about the story from beginning to end which helps me organize the story line.
  • It forces me to create interesting characters with viable needs, goals, and flaws.
  • It makes me think about the middle of the book.
  • It gives me vital turning points so I have specific places to go with my story.
  • It gives me an ending to write toward.

What I love most about the narrative synopsis is that it eradicates the problem of blank pages. Each sentence in the synopsis is a scene waiting to be written. I now have the bare bones of a story just waiting to be fleshed out.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

What to Call Your Characters

Story Step 8

In Story Step 6, I suggested you don’t need to have the perfect title before you write your story. Working titles are fine. Stumbling across the perfect title during the process is always fun.

On the other hand, choosing names for your characters is an important early step when writing a story. Assigning names helps you bond with your characters better than calling them Male #1 or Female #2.

Names carry a lot of weight. This is as true in real life as it is in a story. Choosing the right name for your characters is important.

I love names and have a spreadsheet of several hundred male and female names I’ve collected over the years. I’ve visited cemeteries to record names and life span dates from gravestones. I’ve found unusual names in obituary columns and news articles, and I’ve plucked names off the identity badges of sales clerks.

I’m not shy about name gathering or asking the story behind an unusual name. After complimenting a person’s name, I often ask him or her about its origin. The stories vary, but often their parent is paying homage to a relative or friend, or they’ve taken the name from a story by a favorite author.

I also regularly access the U.S. Social Security Administration’s baby names web pages. This site comes in handy for researching the popularity of names by the decade. Did you know the girl’s name “Emma” was not only the most popular name for 2018, it was also the top contender in 1880?

I write historical romances and one way to keep characters’ names true to a certain time period is to check the bibliography of nonfiction books. Mary Chestnut’s Civil War, a memoir edited by C. Van Woodward, offers a treasure trove of mid-nineteenth century American names. Historical biographies or memoirs from any time period provide the writer with many choices for character names.

When selecting the names of your characters, be sure you have a variety of names that begin with different sounds. If you pepper your story with too many alliterative names, it can be confusing to the reader. Your goal is to keep your reader reading, not confuse him or her. If you’ve ended up with a Polly, a Paula, a Patsy, and a Petunia, you need to rethink your characters’ names.

Now, I realize parents sometimes get a little carried away when naming children and some love the idea of all the names beginning with the same letter. But think about the classic Little Women for a moment. By giving the four sisters completely different names (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy), Louisa May Alcott ensured we’d be able to tell them apart as we read their story.

Another pitfall for writers when naming a character is to pick hard to pronounce names. To be honest, if I can’t figure out how to pronounce a name, I just come up with a nickname to use. I know I’m not the only one who substitutes an easier version when faced with an unpronounceable name.

My suggestion, think twice about wasting a lot of time coming up with a name your readers can’t pronounce. If you just can’t let go of an odd name, you have two choices: use it on a supporting character or supply its correct pronunciation as soon as possible. If you chose option two, weave it into the story. Perhaps another character stumbles over the pronunciation and the main character corrects him or her. Using an easy to pronounce or well known word as a synonym will probably help readers the most.

For example, this character’s name is Terry Lough.

“Ms. Luge?” The nurse looked up from the file she was reading to scan the waiting room. The mispronunciation of her name grated across Terry’s nerves. She stood and headed for the nurse. As she drew closer, she said, “Not the toboggan race. Lough, as in a tree log.”

Always remember, your goal as a writer is to write a story that captivates readers. When the reader gets hung up on the pronunciation of a character’s name, unwillingness to continue reading is the more likely response.