Life's been throwing me a few curveballs lately—mostly snow and ice.
In the past 42 days, my son's been to school only eight times. Between our family vacation, holiday break, and crazy Wisconsin weather, I've been drifting along and fumbling through the chaos of winter. (To be honest, though, I've felt this way for most of my time as a parent!)
Over this time we've made impromptu fortresses, gotten creative with meals (and the times of day we eat them), and, admittedly, my sleep and work routines have been messed with. It's hard to get back into the everyday swing. I know the kids have enjoyed the unplanned time off, but Mom is a little anxious to get back to the "structure" of things. For me, it's satisfying to have a plan before the day begins, and I'm a huge fan of to-do lists. Days seem to unfold more smoothly when there's at least a basic idea of how its beginning, middle, and end will play out.
As I'm sinking back into a writing rhythm, I'd like to share a bit how I plan and outline. For picture books, I love to storyboard.
What is a Storyboard?
A storyboard is a visual plan that helps me shape an idea before writing it, or when working on a revision. I can never avoid the unexpected in writing or in life (and surprises can be fun!), but being able to visually map out a story is one way I can be more efficient with my time and creative energy. To a busy mom and freelancer like me, time and energy are my two most precious resources. I think most of you have probably experienced how both can be easily squandered when we don't guard and plan out our writing time seriously.
What Does a Storyboard Look Like?
Storyboards look differently, depending on whose storyboard you're viewing. I first learned about storyboarding when I was young and visited Walt Disney World—where film animators first draw rough scene sketches to plot out their movies. Back then, I drew in my sketchbook daily and imagined myself doing "real" storyboarding one day.
I didn't end up becoming an illustrator, obviously, but I do make storyboards for what I consider my best ideas—the ones I want to write.
My storyboards are much simpler than a Disney animator's. I draw approximately 14 or 15 rectangles on spiral notebook pages to represent the number of spreads in an average picture book. If I'm developing a new idea that I haven't drafted yet, I draw stick figures and put keywords about the action in the scene. This helps me "see" that my idea has the right amount of action—a series of events—and how my text will integrate with interesting pictures. (I'm aware that the one I actually have a photo of is shamefully lame...)
If I'm polishing a picture book final draft I've already got, I'll actually cut up my manuscript and number each piece. Then I arrange them on the table or floor.
I'll label what goes where within small boxes on a a 32-page or 40-page printed PB template (thumbnail below). This helps me see where my writing might be too text heavy or where there isn't something fresh and action-based to illustrate—perhaps I've got too much dialogue or too many scenes that happen in the same place? (Read: BORING!).
This particular cut-and-arrange technique was very eye-opening when my editor asked me to paginate ONE PLASTIC BAG for the first time and I realized that I could cut (or needed to add) a few words based on where the page break would fall.
Tip: When storyboarding a 32- or 40-page picture book, remember that you'll usually start text on page 5 (not page 1). There will also be pastedowns and possibly endpapers, and consider if you'll need one or two pages of backmatter for nonfiction. This exercise is really eye opening and helps convince new writers of the need to tighten and slash word count.
Occasionally I storyboard in between drafting and polishing, too. When I have a number of "alternate paths" or scenes (I blogged about that at ReviMo), I'll often use entire sheets of paper to storyboard, so I can see the entire book from start to finish and make sure the entire story flows. This was very helpful for my forthcoming book, WATER IS WATER, because, well, a book that involves a creative water cycle journey can have many paths! Before I could finish a final draft, I needed to make strong choices about the order of scenes.
Of course, I always take out the page numbers and most illustrator notes before submitting a manuscript to my agent. Editors and Art directors will add their own clever and creative stuff to my text and make it even better than I imagined—which often presents a few unplanned twists.
Those twists, however, are a good part of the process. I'll take the surprising chaos of working on a book under contract anytime, even if it messes with the "structure" of things.
Have a wonderfully creative, efficient, and productive writing day!
Miranda Paul loves to draw but is way better at writing. She is the author of One Plastic Bag (Millbrook, 2015), Water is Water (Neal Porter Books, 2015), and a to-be-announced title (Millbrook Press, 2016). In addition to being an instructor for the Children's Book Academy’s newest course on grammar, she is the founder and administrator of RateYourStory.org, an online service dedicated to helping writers prepare their manuscripts for submission. If you're ever hosting a karaoke party or a Disney movie marathon, she'd love to be invited, so follow her on Twitter (@Miranda_Paul). Read more online at: www.MirandaPaul.com.
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