Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Building Scene by Scene

The sixth post in my "Writing a Novel Series", which details my experience writing 151, describes my newly-patented system for writing a novel: scene-by-scene storyboarding!

Now that the details of the world and the characters who would be living in it were fleshed out, is it time to write yet? No, not quite. Before doing anything, I wanted to have a clear understanding—a plan—of what would happen during the novel, even on a scene-by-scene basis. Sure, I knew basically what would happen at different parts of the story, but I didn't know how it would happen and how the pieces would fit together. This would definitely help!

Limit to Planning and Details
First thing's first: there's only so much planning one can do when it comes to the details of the world and its characters. I didn't want to pull a JK Rowling and have an entirely vivid view of the world and those within it, before I even know how the story would actually play out. One could, of course, never stop adding details and characters to a vision, many of which would never make it into the story proper. I wanted to avoid that situation—first I would roughly map out the scenes that would make up the novel. Only after that would I know what details I'd need.

Card, or "Scene" System
In order to roughly map out each scene, I used a card system, which was my equivalent of drawing storyboards for a movie. Each cue card would represent a key scene or plot development in the story. Sometimes it would be a sprawling action sequence, sometimes it would be an intimate moment between two characters, sometimes it would be a key turn of events. At the top of each card, I wrote the title of what that scene would be. One example is "Hero is tortured", the title of an early scene in which the hero suffers greatly at the hands of a villain. On the rest of the card, I wrote a brief summary of what would roughly happen in that scene.

Building Scene by Scene in the Story
Now that I had my method for capturing the key scenes of the story, I now had to create them, one-by-one, and map out the story from beginning to end. Using the outline that I'd written down previously as a guide, I proceeded to write each of the major scenes of the story on a series of cards. Then I placed the cards in rows, one after the other, in order to visually build the entire story. I grouped the scene cards into sections—the Acts that made up a third of the three Parts of the story. Finally, I had the story laid out before my eyes...

Character Threads
But it wasn't over yet. I first needed to make sure that the scenes I had laid out balanced the focus of the story equally among each of its main characters. 151 weaves together several main story threads, each of which is related to the other. In order to keep track of which thread was where, I placed a coloured dot at the top right of each of the scene cards on the floor, with the colour representing which thread that scene developed. My goal with this was to visually understand whether I was spending too many scenes in a row with one thread, and to help me mix them up a bit and to maintain the feeling of balance.

Finally, the scene plotting and storyboarding was finished. I then generally knew how 151 would unfold. Now it must be time for writing, right? Wrong. There was one more thing that I had to take care of...