Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Story Beat Boards

At my Illustrator Group meeting a couple of weeks ago, I explained how I was digging into some rewrite changes on Surfside Girls. I mentioned how I put all of my plot points on flashcards, numbered in pencil, and then made a story beat board to have a visual representation of my story. A lot of people there didn't know what I was talking about, and I realize it's something I picked up by spending my early formative artist years in an animation studio. So I figured I'd share how I did that, at the request of the Schmooze Group friends. This works for whatever kind of story you're writing.

We're all visual types, us arty types, right? If you're faced with restructuring a story, sometimes this can seem really daunting, especially because the words on the paper don't always accurately portray the timing of your story. Eventually this will be solved with the dummy book. Before that, however, you can see your emotional points clearly with this.

I took a large corkboard and stretched a piece of yarn across the middle, held on both ends by thumbtacks. Have a bunch of string and thumbtacks standing by.

Next, I went through my story and wrote all the major points on flash cards. For Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this maybe went something like, "Goldilocks wanders in the woods sad and lonely." "Goldilocks spies a cottage (exciting!) It's cute!" "Goldilocks peeks in the front window and sees no one home." "Goldilocks lets herself in the front door." "Goldilocks spies porridge." "Too hot!" etc. Try to figure out how your character is feeling during all of this. When Goldi starts out wandering in the woods, she is (for my demonstration purposes) sad and lonely. I would take that little card and pin it to the leftmost point on the board, slightly below the middle yarn line. That line is emotionally neutral. As Goldi encounters things, she could become scared, happy, etc. Negative emotions put her below the line, positive put her above the line. How far above or below depend on the depth of feeling. For instance, Goldi finding the porridge too cold is going to bum her out, but no where near how bummed out she's going to be when a giant Papa Bear discovers her in the bed.

Your story emotions should rise and fall, gaining momentum until the pivotal moment at the end, and then resolve. In a happy story, the character ends up emotionally above the emotion neutral line.

I have attached a photo of how I'm using this to keep track of stuff. It doesn't replace a dummy, but it can be a faster way to see which points could be punched up. More danger! More at stake!
Hopefully that helps if you, like me, are in the midst of reorganizing thoughts.

The other picture I posted is a poster I made for my church. The preschoolers picked a service project for their year, and brought in little fistfuls of change to buy a needy family a farm. Yes, a farm. Through the organization ELCA Good Gifts, $715 buys a cow, two goats, two pigs, a duck and ten chicks, along with a pitchfork and a hoe. The little kiddos came up a little short, and church members pitched in and provided the rest. I couldn't resist making the poster fun...

I just finished an illustration for the LA Times Kids Reading Room that I'm really happy with. It will probably be the last illustration as the paper is cancelling that section. Thanks, Jennifer James, for those great opportunities for both myself and the SCBWI group. I will post it after it's published.

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