Saturday, January 30, 2010

outlining with a story board

Some writers have only the barest of concepts in mind as they commence a first draft of a story; others prefer to work with a written outline, listing perhaps main characters, the principal and secondary problems, interim resolutions of secondary problems along the way, and a final resolution.  Another idea is to engage the left brain in the conceptual process, and develop a story board before proceeding into the first written draft.  The graphics needn't be elaborate, perhaps using only stick figures for characters and very rough sketches for the rest, but it may stir the imagination and help visualize the sequence of key scenes that are most dramatic in telling the story.  The story board might also alert the writer to how well the arc of tension rises through the story toward some inexorable release in a final resolution of the main problem.

Story boards are most often considered for developing the very short stories of children's picture books, but they can, and have been, used for considering the skeletal structure of longer fiction, including novels.  Whereas the story board might contain a graphic treatment for every page in a child's picture book, it might only show a panel for each major change of setting, or each complication, in the longer forms of fiction.

The partial story board shown above relates to my short story tentatively called, The Summit, which is currently being revised.  The story opens (1) with the three characters, an older scientist, his much younger lover, an engineer, and a local guide.  They are climbing a mid-difficulty peak in northern India.  Their position is precarious, having just survived an avalanche, the westerners are resorting to supplemental oxygen, and the story needs to get moving.  In (2) they face the next challenge on this lesser known route--a steep escarpment requiring some technical climbing.  It seems important not to get bogged down in details here, but to just show the harrowing conditions.  In (3) the climbers take refuge in a small cave on the face to escape worsening weather conditions.  To pass time, the scientist draws his companions into a topic much on his mind, the existence of god.  He's prone to dismiss it as myth, but seems apprehensive of newer complexities uncovered by science that may touch on it.  The engineer offers one of the elementary theological arguments for god, but has little interest in the subject.  She has more immediate concerns--what to do about a recently discovered pregnancy, and an intuition that the relationship is almost over.  The guide simply makes them aware he is a devotee of Kali.  Of course, there's not time to delve very deeply into the god or personal issues, but the idea is  to show a state of mind that sets a course for what follows.  As soon as the weather breaks a bit, the climb resumes.  In (4) the route taken encounters a deep slipped-out region of rock, called 'the notch,' which they must cross on their path to the summit.  The guide disappears during the crossing, and is assumed to have fallen into a crevice somewhere in the notch.

The complete story board for this short story is 8 panels total, and was done to aid the revision process.  The blog for next month will show the final panels, together with a discussion of the remaining story.  Comments are invited, and hope to see you back here then.

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