Posted On December 29, 2016 by Print This Post

Storyboarding – Not Just for Plotting Anymore with Joan Swan

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, here’s a post from 2012 on storyboarding by author Joan Swan.

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.


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.

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

  1. I can see how this would work but it looks a little overwhelming at first. Still, with my short-term memory loss problems, this might be the way for me to go. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Posted by Glynis Jolly | December 30, 2016, 9:39 am
  2. Very helpful and well written article, Joan. Thanks.

    Posted by Thom Reece | December 30, 2016, 12:26 pm
  3. These ideas ROCK! I really empathize with the “forest and trees” scenario — I’m there right now with my WIP. I’d love to see more details about this method, more examples of what to write on the notes. (Maybe this would make a great ebook for writers… I’d sure buy it!)

    Posted by Dani Harper | December 30, 2016, 8:25 pm
  4. Hi Joan,

    Thanks for these tips!

    Posted by Jackie Layton | December 31, 2016, 6:18 am


  1. […] is a storyboarding article which was interesting but way over my head at this […]

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