Sunday, October 15, 2017

From Story Board to Storyboard

Today, storyboard connotes is a series of illustrations or key points illustrating the concept for a film or TV program. Like many techniques from the screenwriting world, this method is also wonderfully useful for novelists and so popular that you’ll find numerous online options for help. But the basic idea is actually much older. Much, much, much older.

Illiteracy, thankfully now far less widespread, was once the norm. If you wanted people to understand the story, you had to show it. Only pictures would do.

For example, in one of the oldest storyboards, the palace of the Neo-Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) at Nimrud (now in northern Iraq) had larger-than-life slabs depicting royal and religious ritual. In the photos below, a winged god drops offers pollen from the scared tree of life, insuring the fertility of the land and its people.



Though novelists use words, the storyboard can give the author an equally useful visual. As Candace Williams observes in “Storyboarding for Novelists,” 
Storyboarding is not a rigid plotting device. The whole point of the board is that it’s flexible. The greatest advantage is seeing exactly how your novel is “built,” just as an architect refers to a blueprint.
The storyboard is especially useful to these novelists:

~ Plotters and pantsers.

If you’re a plotter, this lets you assess pivot points even more efficiently. If you’re a pantser, a storyboard lets you see where you’re going with the least restriction possible.

~ Internal world addicts. Do you revel in oodles of talking and thinking and more of the same? 
Provide an image for each scene, and something will happen in the physical world.

~ Nonlinear writers.

a storyboard, you can write the fourth scene, sixteenth, then second and so on. Compose in any order you like and still see where you are.

In an interview, Rebecca Skloot, author of the complex and successful The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, addressed the complexity of her creative nonfiction with index cards. 

Chuck Sambuchino, in “Storyboarding For Success: Plotters vs. Pantsers,” reminds that:
The magic of a storyboard is turning a book idea into a visual tool, which makes the story’s structure much easier to grasp and handle. A storyboard can be drawn on a board, a piece of paper, or in a computer file.
The storyboard reveals where the climax is, and, in fact, whether you have a climax at all! The inciting incident and major moments that earn the ending are visible—and thus readily reparable. Use index cards, sticky notes, sheets of paper, an Excel spreadsheet, or the many free apps and templates.

Tip: Storyboarding’s been around for a long, long time. With good reason.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Motive and Movement

Inexperienced comedians and actors often wander the stage aimlessly. Sometimes that’s part of the schtick. More often, though, random action signals nervousness and simply distracts. So in theater, directors often warn actors that you can’t just cross the stage because you feel like you’ve been motionless for too long. Movement originates from motivation.

Tip: Never let your character say or do anything without a current, immediate motive.  

In “Motivation-Reaction Units: Cracking the Code of Good Writing, ” K.M. Weiland explains the “motivation-reaction units,” or MRU’s, that Dwight V. Swain introduces in Techniques of the Selling Writer:
In a story, everything that happens can be separated into two categories: causes (motivations) and effects (reactions). Once you grasp this, all you have to do to create solid and comprehensible prose is to make sure your MRUs are in the right order.
The First Gate blog explores this further. The:
Motivation-Reaction Unit is the fundamental building block of an action sequence (it’s important to stress that it does not apply do description, exposition, or reverie).  It’s pretty simple:  something happens, the hero reacts to it, the situation changes, and something else happens.  How characters react to events will largely determine their plausibility and how closely we bond with them. — 1/21/’11
If perhaps a stream of MRU’s seems like extra work, first consider how logical this is. Then consider all the areas you’ll improve.

~ Characterization. 

To link motive to action, you must clearly identify character psychology. 

~ Verisimilitude.

In real life, people do things for reasons. When they don’t, others ask, “Where are you going?” Or, “What’s suddenly bothering you?” Novels need to supply the answers readers might want to ask. This is especially true when characters change their minds or make major decisions. But. This isn’t permission for a paragraph or two of rumination, because there’s never permission for that. It does mean one sentence pinpointing explicit motive.

~ Stage business. 

A character hears something and thus does something. Causal and realistic. It also tests whether stage business serves some purpose beyond interrupting the dialogue.

~ Causality. 

Within the scene, these MR Units mirror what Linda Seger calls “pressure points”—the five or six turning points forming the spine of the novel. Use MRU’s, and the structure of each scene parallels the structure of the scenario.

~ Emotion.

In both characters and readers. Only characters that make sense elicit empathy, and characters can’t make sense unless the rationale underlying behavior is clear. 

Link motive to motion and action, and you enrich both plot and characterization. Because“why” has always been fiction’s most compelling component.