Timelines and Storyboards

Keeping track of characters and events within a story (short to novel) so to be consistent is a no-brainer. With everyone promoting their personal preferences, the question is, “How?” The answer is easy. As imaginative and diverse writers are, use whatever system works for you. The important point is to use something.

Whether an outline, narrative, timeline or storyboard or some off-world method, having and using something is necessary for the immediate story, and imperative if writing a series.

In the movie/video industry, the storyboard is “a graphic organizer in the form of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizinga motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence.” (Wikipedia). This technique helps visualize scenes and highlight potential problems; however, it can be time-consuming and intricate. For novelists, this technique is useful to sequence chapters, but more importantly, plot scene to scene within a chapter with the ability to physically move things around, a definite advantage over the outline form. Artistic skill is not necessary for word-smiths.

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It is possible to use any kind of medium to create a storyboard, a scrap of paper, napkin or note cards to a white board to setting something up on your computer to using a free online program such as “Digital Storytelling.”

The more traditional way is to outline. If you have had this hammered into your head at school, doing it, as one writer commented, (edited) “Outlining #%! sucks. I @%! hate it. Every time I do it I have to grit my teeth and swig whiskey and engage in a movie montage where I ragefully punch frozen beef and run through snow (naked for a day or three).” Word processors have built-in programs that make it easy to use, but . . .

bored-cat

Yes. Whatever your creative mind can fornicate. (I like Shakesphere’s style)

One method is calendaring, using a regular calendar or . . .

calender-1This can be expanded taking it minute by minute or hour by hour or become a vertical storyboard.

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In this example column 1 is location and date, col. 2 distance traveled, col. 3 consecutive day of travel, col. 4 notes/scene detail (not shown is sunrise/set with twilight times and moon phases), col 5 & 6 weather–natural factors that would effect a character/story moving across the SW United States in 1869. (Incidentally, these are physical events that actually happened forcing the plot to accommodate. The actual timeline covers 3-years and eleven pages, maps and photos included.)

Another way is to plot characters. The vertical method tracks one individual at a time.

vertical-timeline

Horizontally, it is possible to track multiple characters and their interactions. (This example covers a 70-year span.)

horizontal

Such things are important when writing a series, allowing a quick check method for remaining consistent with who, what, when, where, why, and how, and for plotting.

These are only a few examples of the background work an author should do to organize. The best method? The one that works for you and story.

One thought on “Timelines and Storyboards

  1. Tahlia Newland

    I’ve used all of these at various times. Now I have a basic timeline drawn on a huge sheet of paper with marks where the different plot points should come, and I use sticky notes to mark the scenes. Then I can move them around easily. I use different coloured notes for different characters.

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