Storyboarding For Success: Plotters vs. Pantsers

Where writers are concerned, there are plotters and there are pantsers. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants when they write a story. They start off with no more than a kernel of an idea or a first sentence or a character, and away they go. They have no idea where they are going, but somehow the story takes over, and they make it—I would say, miraculously—to the end with a complete book.

Writing a book this way gives plotters hives. I’m a plotter and thinking about writing a book pantser-style puts me into a panic and gives me an irresistible craving for a pitcher of margaritas or a package of Oreos.

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Guest column by Elise Sax, author of the debut mass market
paperback, AN AFFAIR TO DISMEMBER (Ballantine, Jan. 2013).
Booklist said, “Fans of laugh-out-loud romantic suspense will
enjoy this new author as she joins the ranks of Janet Evanovich,
Katie MacAllister, and Jennifer Crusie.” Besides that, Elise is an
overwhelmed single mother of two boys in Southern California,
an avid traveler, a beginner dancer, an occasional piano player,
and an online shopping junkie. Find her on Twitter.



Plotters plot out their story to varying degrees before starting a book. Some plotters begin with a general outline. Some diagram the scene they are going to work on that day, and some plot out every scene in the book before they write the first word in chapter one. Other plotters have long book bibles with backgrounds on every character, details of the town their story is set in, etc. And some plotters use a storyboard.

My plotting process includes a general outline with some important scenes diagramed. Then, I storyboard.

(Chapter 1 cliches and overused beginnings — see them all here.)


The magic of a storyboard is turning a book idea into a visual tool, which makes the story’s structure much easier to grasp and handle. A storyboard can be drawn on a board, a piece of paper, or in a computer file. Mark it with vertical and horizontal lines until you get a checkerboard pattern. Each resulting square represents one chapter of your book. If you plan on writing 20 chapters, for example, you will want 20 squares.

Mark each square with its chapter number, and you are already on your way to visualizing your story in book form. Now, you can see where your turning points should be, your “black moment,” and your resolution, for example.


Perhaps you don’t know the entire plot, but you know your character will suffer a life-changing event in chapter five (a quarter of the way into the book) and will be reunited with her true love in chapter nineteen. The rest can be filled in as you brainstorm or as you write.

Storyboarding also allows you to see how scenes will play out. If you are using a large board, you can write each scene with a short description on a Post-It and stick it onto each square. You can have several Post-Its on each square, as many scenes as you want in that chapter. Additionally, if you want to be very detailed, you can color code the scenes: a different color for each character or action, mystery, romance, etc.

(What does a literary agent want to see when they Google you?)

Storyboarding can greatly increase the ease and speed of writing a book. A journey can be a lot smoother if you know where you’re going.

Be forewarned though: Even the most ardent of plotters can be surprised by the direction their story takes, and characters sometimes have a mind of their own and do what they want, despite the author’s best laid plans.



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