Posted On August 10, 2012 by Print This Post

Storyboarding – Not Just for Plotting Anymore with Joan Swan

Please help me welcome a great writer (and friend!) Joan Swan. She’s quick-witted, funny and knows more about storyboards than any woman has a right to! Don’t forget to comment below to enter yourself for the giveaway! Take it away, Joan!

Typically, storyboards are used in conjunction with plotting, but never fear pansters, that’s not what I’ll be talking about today.  Today, I’d like to share you with a few other ways to use the storyboard for your twisted amusement.

Let’s start with Revision, Plotting’s nasty little cousin.  Using the storyboard for revision turns the snotty-nosed problem into a streamlined dream.  Okay…maybe not a dream…but still…

The storyboard allows me to see an entire novel at a glance.  I can visually identify rough spots, bare spots and hot spots immediately and all at once.  And this technique encompasses both big picture items and detail elements.

I put this storyboard together after I finished the manuscript for Blaze, my second novel with Kensington Brava, releasing October 2012.  I was so entrenched in the story, I couldn’t see it anymore – the old forest for the trees scenario.  If I’d simply gone at the revisions the way I usually do, page by page, highlighting, making notes, it would have been like diving into quicksand.  But I didn’t have the luxury of putting the manuscript under the bed to come back to it fresh in a couple of months, either—I had a deadline!

This storyboard was miraculous as a revision tool.  I have no doubt it saved me many weeks, lots of hair and a few much needed Zzzs.

Don’t let the photo scare you!  You have complete control over how detailed or simple you make your board.  I’m a tad OCD…ask anyone. =)

So, here’s how it goes…

I split the three or four-part display board (available at Staples, Office Max, etc.) into Acts.  Each section is an act.  I work on the four-act story structure, so I use four-part display boards.  (If you don’t know what three and four act story structure is, this is my favorite resource on the subject: Story Structure Demystified by Larry Brooks.)

I then split each act/section into the number of chapters in that act, and then split those chapters into its individual scenes.  Each chapter gets a separate column and the scenes within each chapter are aligned vertically.

I printed out the manuscript (not necessary, just the way I like to work) and read each scene, making editing notes as I went.

I wrote a one or two line summary of what happens in that scene on the POV character’s sticky color, then add the GMC for that scene (this is the ‘scene’ of scene and sequel). Then I add the sequel (of scene and sequel).  For Blaze, I’ve used pink for my heroine, blue for my hero, puke green for my villain =) and teal for scenes that hadn’t been written, but—after putting the board together—I realized I needed.

On the yellow sticky, I made notes on items I wanted to fix in that scene and then checked them off in red after I’d made the revisions.  It’s great to be able to look at the board and watch your progress.

To the right, on the orange/coral sticky, I noted craft elements I felt I needed to keep track of in each scene.  These will change with each story and with my own writing as it develops.

For example, in Blaze, my h/h’s paranormal abilities heightened as they spent more time together, but in reading over the manuscript, I noticed I often “forgot” all about this.  So I added “paranormal” to the element chart so I would remember to look for it as I read over each scene.  After I’d read the scene, if I felt a particular element pulled its weight, I gave it a star.  If not, I left the space blank, a message reminding me to beef up that element in this scene.  Once that’s done, the star gets placed.

Along the way, I inevitably discover scenes that need to be moved, deleted or added, and all that can be organized by the smack of a stickie!  Gotta love it!

In the bigger picture, you’ll see heart and star stickies.  Yes, I added them because they’re fun and pretty.  But they serve a purpose, too.  The hearts mark love scenes and the stars mark turning points.  I love using these visuals so I can get an overall feel for the distance of scenes and how they might affect the pacing from one simple glance at the board.  It’s a visual weighting system for me, and since I’m a visual person, it really helps.

Using this revision board I can see at a glance:

  • If my character POV’s are proportioned well
  • If plot points and love scenes are proportioned well
  • If my acts are proportioned well
  • If my craft elements are carrying their weight
  • Level of revisions/edits required
  • Number of new scenes needed to write.

Some other fabulous uses for this board:

  • Checking your own work:Many print-published authors are venturing into self publishing. Those works won’t benefit from the sharp eyes of agent and editor, and this type of self check of a manuscript can catch all kinds of errors both you and a critique partner could miss that your agent or editor might catch under traditional publishing circumstances.

  • Improving your own work: Often, you may be at a different level of writing than other writers you exchange critique with. You may be striving to learn story structure or deepen emotion or complicate your plots, while they could care less. This technique could be your best bet for improving your craft when you don’t have a partner who’s interested in the same.

The greatness of this technique is that it is completely customizable. You can tailor it to any genre, any writing level, any focus.


So tell us about your plotting board dreams (or nightmares). Do you think this method would work for you? What is your preferred method of revising? Have you used a storyboard to plot?
Add your thoughts to the discussion for a chance to win a print copy of FEVER and a print or e copy of INTIMATE ENEMIES.

Join us on Monday as author Larissa Reinhart discusses the pros and cons of publishing with a small press.


Bio: I write what I like to read: romantic suspense. I write for entertainment and escape–the same reasons I love to read. I prefer real-life language, so you’ll find profanity in my work when it fits the character. I prefer open-door sex, so my love scenes are typically hot and steamy. And because my stories involve suspense, you’ll often find violence, mystery and an inside look at the intricate world of forensics. Occasionally, I like to dabble in the lighter side of paranormal as well.

I am agented by the fabulous Paige Wheeler, founding partner of Folio Literary Management in New York. My debut novel, FEVER, releases from Kensington Brava in April 2012. Book 2 in the series, BLAZE, releases fall 2012. My editor at Kensington is the wonderful Alicia Condon, Editorial Director for Brava.

Similar Posts:

Share Button



25 Responses to “Storyboarding – Not Just for Plotting Anymore with Joan Swan”

  1. Hey Joan! Thanks for joining us and for the great post. I haven’t tried storyboarding yet, but I’ll give it a whirl, eventually. I’m constantly refining my process and normally take a little something from each technique I try.

    As a side note, you have a great team behind you–Paige and Alicia! Congrats on all your happy success this year!!

    See you around Twitter!!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | August 10, 2012, 5:17 am
  2. Morning Joan!

    I juuust happen to have a piece of storyboard in my laundry room! (long story, don’t ask!) I’m going to have to try this technique. I think if I saw my story set out visually, it would help, rather than try to remember everything you’ve outlined above while re-reading through it.

    I did take a storyboarding class once (okay, twice) and ended up with more sticky notes on the cats than on the board…but this inspires me to try again – and hang the board up higher this time! =)

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 10, 2012, 5:45 am
    • Hi Carrie,

      Honestly, it took me a long time to try this because subconsciously, I didn’t want to see it mapped out (I’d then have to face all my screwups and all the work I had to fix it in front of my face – ACK!).

      And I totally know why yours is in your laundry room!!! :):):)

      Posted by Joan Swan | August 10, 2012, 10:54 am
  3. Hi, Joan. I love your storyboard! I don’t do exactly what you do but I have a five foot white board on my wall that I draw story flow charts on. Then, as I’m working on my first draft, I load all the scenes into a scene chart. What I like about the spreadsheet is that when I’m working on revisions, I can just copy the row and paste it somewhere else if I need to move a scene. Then I have a quick visual of how the scenes roll out.

    I think the one thing I’m missing is the checklist that indicates whether I think the scene holds it’s weight. I love that idea! Thanks for the tip.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | August 10, 2012, 6:09 am
  4. I don’t know how I would tackle revisions without doing something like this. I used a similar method with notecards for the one I’m subbing now and it really helped me wrap my head around what needed to be fixed/added etc. I got more fancy during a later revision and bought a foamcore board split it up into Acts and Sequences a la Alexandra Sokoloff and that really helped. I then used it to try my hand at pre-plotting my next one and then fleshed it out on the board after I finished the first draft. I hadn’t thought of doing some of the things you did (what to fix and the stars)– will have to do that!

    One thing I did was have a deep pink sticky that I placed in the corner of each sequence that wrote out where the H/h was emotionally in their character arc so that I could make sure I have that shown.

    Posted by Angela Quarles | August 10, 2012, 6:32 am
    • Hi Angela – I love that addition of emotions into the board. I attended Michael Hauge’s lecture at RWA12 and had already seen his CD on incorporating the love story into different scenes and the arc of the love story…that would be fabulous to add into this type of storyboard.

      Posted by Joan Swan | August 10, 2012, 10:57 am
  5. I haven’t tried storyboarding either but it looks like a great way to self-edit and make sure your story is tight and focused. I think I’ll try this technique while I’m working on my third novel.
    Thanks for the detailed explanation!

    Posted by Juliette Springs | August 10, 2012, 8:01 am
  6. I’m a pantster and I always have rebelled against the idea of outlines and storyboarding, but this looks like it actually might help me. I’m working on a third book in a book series that I had originally envisioned as contemporary romance and editor wants more of a women’s fiction novel with interconnected stories of multiple characters. Trying to keep all the stories straight, making sure they’re not disjointed, and making sure the plotline for each smoothly comes to a conclusion is getting more and more complicated. Thanks for sharing this technique! If my outline layout fails me, I may try this route. 🙂

    Posted by Shelly | August 10, 2012, 8:37 am
  7. I’ve never quite understood storyboarding–conceptually, yes, but in execution,no–until now. I can see how it would be useful for drafting and revision. Thanks for demystifying this tool.

    Posted by PatriciaW | August 10, 2012, 9:31 am
  8. Hi, Joan –

    I end up doing some type of storyboarding after the first draft, because it helps me see the story visually. However, I love some of the visual additions you’ve made. I used to feel like having fun visually with my writing was wasting time, but now I’ve discovered that can really help my creative and problem solving process.

    In my old office, i had the perfect window to use stickies and dry erase markers. I’m just setting up a new office and will have to figure out the best place to storyboard.

    Thanks a ton!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | August 10, 2012, 10:04 am
    • Hi Kelsey – I agree, this saves a ton of time in the end. It doesn’t feel like it when you’re looking at doing it or while you’re in the middle of doing it, but in the end — DEFINITELY both time and sanity saving! (And confidence building!)

      Posted by Joan Swan | August 10, 2012, 11:01 am
  9. I love storyboarding, in theory, but haven’t been able to plot in that much detail yet. I can manage anchor scenes now, so I’m making progress at least!

    I’ll bookmark this – it’s a great idea, if I can only pull it off!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 10, 2012, 10:26 am
  10. Hi Joan,

    Storyboards make me think of Steven Spielberg. He storyboarded Indian Jones and the Lost Ark. Alfred Hitchcock set up storyboards too.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | August 10, 2012, 11:56 am
  11. Hi Joan,

    I outline my chapters, but I’ve never tried storyboarding. However, after reading your post, I’m going to give it a try, especially because I’d like a visual on my story’s progress. I can see how it’s a great tool for revisions too.

    Do you have a board for each chapter?

    Wonderful post. Great to have you here today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 10, 2012, 1:48 pm
  12. Though I do not write much toward the romance genre, I subscribed to this blog because you never know what you can learn, right?

    This is probably the most mind-opening, helpful advice about revising that I’ve found anywhere. I get lost in the same revision you described of going page by page, line by line (just fine for shorter works but you can get lost and confused easily for larger works). I, too, understood the idea or storyboarding but was lost on how to specifically go about actually approach and begin. Thank you for teaching the way, Joan. 🙂

    Posted by Jake Richert | August 13, 2012, 11:44 pm
  13. This post was very helpful. I’m a newbie author and so I had to look up your acronyms GMC throughout post which was tough. Once I figued that out I was able to understand your point. (suggestion for next time). I have a storyboard that I’m using for revisions but it just tells me what I have where in the story. Your post was helpful in that I learned does the story actually accomplish structure objectives. This is helpful in that now I”ll be able to expand upon my storyboard in a way that will be even more helpful to me. Not sure it works as well for plotting a story as it does for revisions but I’m open to feedback on that.

    Posted by J.E. | September 24, 2012, 6:27 pm


  1. […] Storyboarding For Editing by Joan Swan […]

    | Reetta Raitanen's Blog - August 22, 2012
  2. […] which can fit onto a 3×5 card or a sticky note for storyboarding (see this fantastic article on storyboarding by Joan Swan at Romance University.) […]

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts

  • Feb 23, 2018 No More Fat Shaming! with Kris Bock





Follow Us