Outlining: the “W” Storyboard

W Storyboard

W Storyboard

The “W” Storyboard… one of my favs. As I’ve mentioned, I first discovered the “W” Storyboard from author Mary Carroll Moore. It set off a lot of lightbulbs and really helped me find the hero’s journey. I discovered through using this storyboard that my MC was “offstage” for part of the story and by the time I finished, he was front row and center! (I’m also working through/blogging my journey through Mary Carroll Moore’s book, Your Book Starts Here, if you’re interested in joining me or reading about it). So here we go…

What is the “W” Storyboard?

The “W” Storyboard is a visual map of your story, with the story being marked along the three act structure. The “W” looks something like this picture, which I found on Pinterest (note: it hasn’t been filled in):

W Storyboard

W Storyboard

Starting where you would if you were writing the letter “W” is the inciting incident (triggering event). This is where your story begins. As you follow the first leg down, the problems are being set and tensions rise. At the bottom of the first leg is the first crisis moment (turning point)  that propels us into act 2 and calls the hero to action.

The second leg of the “W” is traveling upward and it’s during this time that the problem is being resolved. Things may continue to get better. A new character may show up. But at the top of Act 2, another conflict happens (pop moment) and pushes us into the second half of act two (the next leg of the “W”), where things spiral to the lowest point. Problems deepen and at the bottom of that leg, it is the hero’s lowest point.

The final leg of the “W” travels upward. This is act 3, where the problems resolve. Towards the top of act 3, there’s an “epiphany moment,” which is usually when the the hero has an inner resolution of some kind. Maybe they understand something in a new way. At the top of this leg is the resolution (or end).

There are two things I love about the “W”:

  1. The shape of the “W” visually follows the main rise and fall that happens in the story.
  2. You can use the “W” storyboard in many different ways. Yes, it’s great to chart your hero’s journey, but you can also plot another character’s journey along it which is super helpful for finding the holes in your story and making sure events and characters intersect when they’re supposed to.

When  I first plotted my story on one of these, I was shocked/appauled/relieved that my main character was nearly missing from the second half of act 2! (Appauled that I didn’t catch any of this in my first draft, relieved that I found out why my story seemed to go South in act 2.) Somehow a supporting character had found their way into the center of the story and didn’t want to leave the stage!

Nowadays, I revisit the “W” often, as in every few scenes often. I can adapt and make changes through the writing process, but also keep the bird’s eye view.

How to Plot Your Story on the “W” Storyboard

There are a number of ways to add your plot points to the “W” storyboard. As you’ll see in this picture, which I found on Carrot Ranch, post-it notes are a wonderful option:

Post-It Notes on

Post-It Notes on “W” Storyboard

For my “W” I use the entire floor of my living room and place all my notecards on the floor, following the “W” shape. (For my information about how I outline using notecards, go here). By starting with notecards and truly dumping every possible event onto them, then placing them along the “W” storyboard, I was able to quickly elliminate the unneccessary points. It took me a looonnngg time to complete the cards and form the “W,” but it was soooo worth it for getting to the essence of my story. By the time I was finished, my hero was center stage, the whole way through!

If you want to learn more about the “W,” Mary Carroll Moore has a wonderful lecture on the “W” storyboard and you can see it here.

Do you have tips to share about storyboarding? Do you use the “W” or recommend something else? Drop a comment below if you like.

Until next time, happy writing to You,

Ellie

What I’m listening to this week:

Taylor Davis’ violin version of Now We are Free (beautiful!)

Craig Armstrong’s Romeo & Juliet (balcony scene)

Love this piano rendition of Karthik Krish’s Titanic

To read this article and many more, hop over to my new site!

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Ch. 1 of Your Book Starts Here (A Conversation with My Book)

A long while ago, someone told me about a class they’d taken with Mary Carroll Moore, author of many, many books, including this one to the right, Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book. I bought it back then, but it’s been sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently for me to open it up. And last week, I did! After Camp NaNoWriMo (you can read more about my experience here), I’ve been back at the drawing board, revisiting my notecards, reading a ton, and decided that I need a more guided approach to writing (and finishing!) my book. While thinking about this, I looked at my shelf and saw it, and decided that the day had come to crack it open!

Ahhh. I already feel better. Relieved! Supported! Hooray!

I’ll be writing my thoughts and big takeaways chapter by chapter, so if you want to follow along with me over the next couple of months, you can get a copy of her book here. It’s also available on kindle, but the paperback has large pages (great for side notes!) and that’s what I have and recommend. I’ll also include other material (blog posts, books, thoughts) on the subject of each chapter, if it applies.

So without further ado…

Chapter 1: Your Book Starts Here (A Conversation with My Book)

Nothing like delving into a new book about writing and oh how I need it! Here’s a brief overview of what I got from chapter 1:

The book is broken up into 3 parts:

  1. plan
  2. write
  3. develop

I’m mostly interested in the plan and write part and that’s what I’m committed to writing about with these posts. However, depending on where I am with my own project, I may venture into the third part.

What I love about this book is that the author seamlessly weaves stories about other writers who overcame obstacles as the made their way through a project. Inspiring? Yes!

There are companion writing exercises for each section so that even in chapter 1, I’m already getting to practice what I’m learning. Learning is good, but hey, experience is everything. In chapter 1, I got to have a “conversation” with my book, through a list of guided questions. I got so much out of this exercise. As I mentioned in my post about Camp NaNoWriMo, I worked myself into a corner. This exercise of conversing with my book allowed me to not figure out how to leave the corner, but actually put me in the center of the room. New perspective, new inspiration and I found a new character through this! I also got to use the creative imagination and make a plan for immediate next steps. Yes!

That’s all for now from Your Book Starts Here. So far so good. In chapter 2, I’ll be reading about the outer and inner story, what’s happening and how it’s bringing meaning to my characters.

Side Note Mary Carroll Moore is the one who I learned about the magical “W” storyboard from. You can see a wonderful video she made about it here. And I’ll get into my deep love for the “W” in a later post, which mostly has to do with my being a visual person who loves maps and storyboards.

Other Journaling Exercises for Communicating with Your Story

I love this concept of using the imagination (visualizing) to communicate with your book, story, script, characters, setting, etc. Several years ago, when I was in a writing class, we did an entire class on visualizing and journaling with characters and story. Here are two of my favorites:

  • Write a Q & A with your main character. This can be with any character in your story, or even with the setting or time period. You write a question, then immediately follow with the answer from that character. No stalling, this is a free write and should keep moving (much like the morning pages from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). The margin literally has alternating “Q” and “A” (you are the interviewer (Q) and your character/setting/time period is the one answering (A). It can be very effective if you stay in the flow. It certainly took me to some unsuspecting places.
  • Go to the End and Look Back: For this exercise, you visualize being at the end of your book/script/poem (eyes closed if you prefer), and look back on how you got there. Spend some time moving back in time through each point of your story and when you get to where you are now, open your eyes and write how you got there. You can also pause between each point, write it down, then close your eyes and visualize getting to the next previous point. Either way works, it’s a matter of preference. The important point is to start at the end and move back in time. This can also be very helpful if you’re stumped over a particular character or plot point. You can use the exercise to just work through that one area.

That wraps it up for now. Do you have some favorite journaling or visualization exercises for writing? Please share in the comments below if you like!

Ellie

Articles, Links and Music for Inspiration:

The book I’m following through these posts is Your Book Starts Here.

A detailed article about the “W” storyboard can be found here.

Here is Mary Carroll Moore’s video about the “W” Storyboard.

This song doesn’t fall under my usual preference for writing, but I’m soooo loving it. It’s called Lucky, by Red Penny and you can listen here.

Check out this article and many more on my new site here!