Why I Love to Storyboard
by Debra Coleman Jeter
I used to write in spurts, and I’d be untruthful if I claimed to be completely changed in this regard. But I have discovered a technique that helps keep me on task, even during those draggy days when I don’t feel remotely inspired.
Every day I try to write, at a minimum, either: 3 storyboards or one scene. The storyboard can take a lot of different forms. The one I use consists of:
Brief overview of scene
Senses: sound, smell, etc
Relationships of characters appearing in scene
Dialogue (I scribble a few lines here and sometimes the scene takes off at this point)
Point of view
Final image and/or last line
I print out several copies of my storyboard headings (followed by a couple of blank lines after each), and I may stare at one for some time before I write a thing. Eventually, though, I begin to fill in the blanks. I tell myself it doesn’t matter what I write as it is just a storyboard. Often I get going and turn the page over to scribble more ideas for the scene on the back.
The following day I select one of the storyboards and instruct myself to write at least five pages. Since I’ve already put a fair amount of thought into it the day before—I have my storyboard in front of me—the scene often seems to write itself once I get going.
I don’t always fill in every blank on my storyboard. I often scribble other ideas that don’t really fit the storyboard. For instance, if an idea for the opening line comes to me, I jot that down. If this line leads to a complete paragraph, even better! In some ways writing a storyboard is like writing a story. I let the words take me where they want to go. The main purpose of the framework is simply to get myself thinking and get my pen moving. Some writers may not need this tool, but I’ve found that it helps me immeasurably.
For some works—whether short or long—I use outlines but not always. When I do, the outline may be very detailed or quite brief. Some storylines seem to lend themselves better to outlining while others take more of a free form path in my mind and on paper. Yet somehow I keep coming back to storyboarding, regardless of whether I’m working with or without an outline.
I don’t always heed the words on the storyboard, however. Sometimes I find that I’ve written an entire scene without reference to any of the senses. When this happens, I usually push forward if I’m working on a first draft. Later, in the editing process, I may come back to take a second look at the storyboard for a scene to see what I had in mind. I even use a code on occasion for each page of the manuscript, some variation of the things I need to keep in mind as I edit. For example, I may use A for actions, I for imagery, AV for active verb, V for visuals, SM for smells, SO for sounds, etc. Of course I don’t need all of these on every page, but it helps me avoid going for long stretches without actions or sensory details. I don’t want my writing to drag and bore my readers. Glancing back over what I’ve just written, I may be at risk of boring you so I’ll stop!
Never, never give up—and happy storyboarding!
As you might guess from the title, The Amateur Marriage deals with a marriage. Like every marriage, it has good points and bad ones, happy occasions and sad ones. In some ways, Michael and Pauline are mismatched. He is plodding and conservative; she is impulsive and romantic. Because the couple come together just before Michael goes off to war (1941), they rush into marriage without knowing each other as well as they probably should.
Despite the impact of this wartime setting on their decision, their marriage is far from unique in this regard. Many couples head into marriage for a host of reasons, not all of them wise ones
While Anne Tyler leaves it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions, my own take on this novel is that every marriage is imperfect and perhaps the worst injustice, or saddest outcome, is giving up too easily. I don’t mean to suggest that couples should never divorce. There are abusive relationships, and I don’t limit those to physical abuse—nor is it always the husband who is abusive. But I do think many couples give up too easily, and may ask themselves later in life why they did.
Of course we sometimes see individuals who make a go of a late-in-life marriage after having gone through one or more divorces. But I wonder if this is often because the individuals have mellowed and learned to prioritize their relationship, or to have more realistic expectations.
Michael and Pauline have a child, their eldest, who leaves home, falls out of touch and into drug problems. This trauma is one that can befall virtually any family, I suspect, from those with obvious problems to those that seem to have it all together. I don’t want to tell too much—I hate spoilers—so I won’t go into more detail. Suffice it to say that this novel was one that made me smile at times, cry at others, and made me think. For me that’s one of the real tests of a good novel.
As a writer, I stand in awe of Anne Tyler’s ability to enter the minds of very different characters and leave you feeling as if you knew them well. I also admire a novel where every character is flawed (as all humans are) and exasperating at times, but ultimately presented in a way that causes the reader to care about them and feel glad when things go well and sad when they do not. When it comes to marriage, aren’t we all amateurs?