Do you struggle to put together a family history narrative? Want to learn how to plot like a pro? A storyboard could be the answer to your writing woes. Many fiction writers use storyboards to plot their novels.
A storyboard is a simple way to visually outline or map out your writing project. You can use the storyboard as your guidepost to start writing, or as chapter or section titles to take you through the writing process. If you're not sure about where or how to begin crafting a story others will want to read, here are three simple steps to help you get started with storyboarding.
1. Think like a writer, not like a genealogist. During the research phase of family history, most genealogists deal primarily with facts (names, dates, places, and other pertinent details), and use their analytical skills to "put the puzzle pieces together" and interpret the information. But, when it comes to plotting a story, you should be thinking like a writer—tapping into your inner creativity to put those facts together in an accurate, yet compelling way.
2. Write cinematically. All good stories have three basic parts: Beginning, Middle, and End (or in theatre terms, “three acts”). Although you may not think of your family's story as a movie, it often helps if you do. Try writing cinematically—breaking the story you want to tell into scenes. Scenes move your plot forward, set the tone, and highlight your voice.
3. Outline Your Ideas. Identify key points, ideas, scenes etc. you want to convey or include in your book, profile, or short story using a technique typically taught in novel writing workshops: the “Index Card" method. For a book project, the “old school” way is to get a stack (about 60) of 3 x 5 index cards and write down one scene per card (aiming for 15 scenes for Act 1, 30 for Act 2, and 15 for Act 3). This keeps the story moving.
For example, in my book, Three Slovak Women, the overall main plot is a story about three different generations of Slovak women. For Act I, my main plot is my grandmother's immigration story, and my subplots would be her family life in Slovakia, her arranged marriage to my grandfather, and her assimilation in America.
The index card method is useful because once you have your scenes written out you can shuffle the cards around to get the order you desire—the one that makes the most sense for your story. Software tools or apps make the process easier by letting you create “virtual” index cards.
One of my favorite programs is Scrivener by Literature and Latte, (available for PC and Mac), which has many useful features, including the ability to set up your projects in storyboard format using a virtual corkboard. There is a 30-day free trial available (and it runs for 30 days of actual use rather than by calendar days).
Next, transcribe or develop what you've written on each card into an outline, with your main plot (and then subplot a, b, c). This process will help you to see what does or doesn't work. (Scrivener lets you seamlessly switch to outline view, and easily shuffle your cards if you want to change, move or delete a scene). For smaller projects (for example, ancestor profiles), you would use less cards, but follow the same basic guidelines.
To learn more about creating storyboards with Scrivener, register for the upcoming Legacy webinar on Storyboard Your Family History.
Consider giving storyboarding a try. A storyboard gives you a “bird’s eye view” of your project so you can build a structure that works, see the holes in your content, and have a place to store notes, ideas, source information, and more.
Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor and lecturer specializing in genealogy and creative nonfiction. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.