LIKE A FILM DIRECTOR, BEGIN WITH A STORYBOARD By Donna Del Oro
When I was in junior high school, I discovered comic books. I loved the Archie and Katy Keene comics and often tried to change or continue a story that a particular comic book had featured. Then I began to draw and write my own comics, creating my own characters and storyline. My friends loved them, and so with this encouragement I wrote my first novel at age sixteen. Predictably, it was called THE SEVENTEENTH SUMMER, a teen romance full of bittersweet longings. That novel, too, began with a storyboard, or frames of scenes that I drew and whose dialogue I’d sketched and printed out. I drew the major scenes like the frames of a comic strip.
MANY, MANY YEARS LATER—and as an art minor--I find that storyboards still help me plot out a story outline. I might sketch the scenes in colored pencil or felt pen. The frames are usually 4 x 5 inches or half of a typical printer page. After they’re finished, I’ll cut the pages up and tape them on the wall or tack them on my cork board. Each frame is labeled by chapter number or chapter number, scene one, two, three, etc. Then I study them to see where the story arc is going.
Just as a film director uses his storyboard to help him plan out scenes as well as decide on camera angles and close-ups vs. medium/long shots, a writer can use his storyboard to plot out the scene’s location and POV. Of course, you don’t have to draw or sketch every action in the scene. In my case, I’ll sketch out the main characters in the beginning of a scene with a hint of the setting—time period and location--as a backdrop. How the scene develops is what I decide mentally but seeing my vision of the major characters in that particular beginning scene helps me decide what the emphasis of that scene is, its purpose in the overall story, whether it’s a “reflective” or “action” scene, AND the scene’s POV.
Sometimes I’ll be halfway through the sketch when I realize the POV is all wrong or the setting needs to be changed. The drawn scene helps me visualize and slow down the motion picture that’s running through my mind, acts as a kind of creative prompt or cue, and alerts me to what is wrong with the scene. Or vice versa, what is right with it. George Lucas once said in an interview that he redrew the STAR WARS honky-tonk saloon scene several times until he got it just right. He said he scripted each move and camera angle until it all came together exactly as he wanted it. When he finally turned it over to his designers and cinematographers, they knew what he wanted. It’s a laborious process, perhaps, but a creative one which I, and other writers I know, use to help us focus on the basics.
When I see the strip of frames—one frame per chapter or scene, depending on how ambitious I feel—I can determine more easily, too, whether the pacing is working. In the romantic thrillers that I write, the pacing is especially important and has to be fast enough for the suspense to be sustained and increased to the all-important climactic scene in the book. However, in a thriller you also need some down time, or scenes in which characterization is developed through dialogue and inner monologues. The visual pictures I’ve sketched help me to see where the “reflective” scenes are in relation to the “action” scenes. As in any story, there has to be a balance, but if you follow the three-act structure, each “act” in the story has to have a crisis point towards the end, followed by a resolution attempt or complication that adds to the suspense. The storyboard technique aids the writer in visualizing and timing those crisis points.
For us visually dependent writers who also like some structure in our story plotting, storyboarding is an extremely useful technique. If you’re the least bit artistic, try it!
Donna Del Oro spent her childhood in two places, Silicon Valley, CA and the countryside of East Texas, as her father tried several job opportunities. Finally settling in Silicon Valley, she grew up in a bilingual, bicultural world--Spanish on her mother's side and English on her father's. Comfortable in both worlds, she decided upon retiring from teaching to write about her Hispanic side. Four women's fiction books resulted and a series about professional singers, their careers and love lives. Retired and devoting much of her abundant free time to exercise, writing, singing and her grandson, Donna has finally reached a point in life that totally satisfies her. Life is good and she has no complaints, just a lot of gratitude for her many blessings.
Athena Butler is the modern-day descendant of an ancient bloodline of gifted clairvoyants. She’s trying to live a “normal” life as an artist, but with the disappearance of her mother and other notable psychics, she finds herself dragged into danger. She, too, is a target.
Kas Skoros, the son of a psychic, is a Guardian, one of a secret society whose task is protecting the Delphi bloodline. He rushes to rescue Athena and uncover the mastermind behind the kidnapping plot.
Athena and Kas stay one step ahead with Athena’s psychic abilities and Kas’s training in law enforcement. When they seek refuge at the Skoros compound in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the FBI convinces them that the only way to stop the kidnappers and trap the mastermind is for Athena to offer herself as bait.
Pyramid Valley, Nevada
Athena Butler’s eyes blinked open and she sat up.
Coming back from The Flow was always jolting. Emerging from the stream of spirits was like a water skier lurching out of the water, pulled by a strong, invisible force. The mind caught up later to the body as if it required a rough snap to break free.
Likewise, to go there was like jumping out of a plane and feeling the air rush to your face, your limbs weightless and wobbly. Most of the time, it was a joy to enter this world of unseen spirits. Athena welcomed her visits, especially at night when she found herself invariably alone.
When she was a child, she’d often emerge from The Flow with a fearful whimper and a cry. She’d wept and wanted to stay in The Flow. Now, at twenty-six, Athena had grown accustomed to her mental flights. They were no longer fear-inducing for she understood their purpose. But her exits were still mind-wrenching and she often lay in bed, disoriented.
This morning, fear clutched her heart and she could barely breathe. With a trembling hand, she reached for her phone. Breathless, she raked her other hand through her hair and kicked her legs over the side of the bed. She punched her mother’s mobile numbers. It was nine o’clock East Coast time.
“Thank God, Mama! Where are you?”
“I’m in Baltimore, near the--.”
“Mama, I had a dream about you. A Flow Dream. The spirits—they want me to warn you! Whatever you’re doing right now, get off the streets. Go home and lock the door. Call the police!”
Her heart felt like a ticking bomb in her chest. Athena could barely speak. But her mother knew her and understood her Flow dreams. They were seldom wrong though sometimes a little off in timing. Today, a threat was imminent. She knew it.
“Slow down, Thena. Take a deep breath and tell me slowly about your dream. I don’t doubt you but we must be able to interpret it correctly. You know how these Flow Dreams are. Sometimes the symbolism is strange and difficult to interpret.”
“Okay--just go home and lock the door. Now, Mama!”