Scrivener Superpowers

How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Practice

How to Storyboard Your Story (for Mac)

(For the Windows version of this tutorial, click here.)

Storyboarding is the process of mapping out your story, often using index cards, in a high-level way that allows you to see your story visually and rearrange it.

Scrivener’s Corkboard provides the perfect interface to storyboard your novel digitally.

When Should You Storyboard?

The storyboarding process can be undertaken at any phase in the writing of a story. Storyboarding is a tool I use several times during the writing process: before I begin writing (i.e. planning/plotting), during the rough draft (when I get stuck), and when I’m revising. It’s a way to see the big picture, make sure your story has good bones and ensure that everything flows logically from one scene to the next.

It’s also the tool that allows you to combine the work you’ve done for the previous three chapters: your knowledge of how to structure your manuscript, your characters, and your settings. Your storyboard is where they all come together. Having characters, settings, and an idea of your plot in mind ahead of time will make the storyboarding process much simpler.

How to Create Your Storyboard in Scrivener

Follow these steps to storyboard in Scrivener:

  1. To Begin, Create a New Folder

Move the new folder outside of the Manuscript section of the Binder. Call this folder “Storyboard.”

  1. View the Folder as a Corkboard

After you create your new storyboarding folder, open it, and view it as a Corkboard (background color/style varies depending on your settings):

Act-I-corkboard-label

  1. Create Index Cards for the Major Sections of Your Book

Next, create an index card for your first act or chapter. To do this, just create a new document, as you normally would for a new scene, within the Storyboard folder. When you use the Corkboard view, these documents will be shown as index cards.

I’ll let you start as big as you want. Sometimes, I’ll start planning (especially in the early phase of idea generation) with only three or four cards, one for each “act.” Sometimes I start with a “beginning” card and an “end” card.

beginning-and-end

There’s no right or wrong way.

Let’s say you’ve thought about it for a while and have a vague idea of how your chapters should be laid out. Great. Create a card and write the title of the chapter at the top of the card.

Even if you don’t plan to title your chapters in the final story, use titles as an exercise in specificity. Maybe you’re writing a literary story and you want those fancy roman numerals to head each chapter, or you don’t want chapter breaks at all, just a blank space between sections like Frank McCourt uses in Angela’s Ashes. That’s fine. Challenge yourself to title your sections anyway. This isn’t the final result, but an exercise in getting to know your story better.

In the body of the card, write a one or two sentence description of the main purpose of the chapter, like I’ve done in the screenshot above. The goal here is to get to the point. Often, I don’t know what the main purpose of my chapter is and I’ll have to think really hard about it. Sometimes I delete a chapter entirely. Other times I break a chapter into two because there are two important points I want to hit. In both cases, the story is stronger for it.

Once you’re done with the first chapter card, create a new index card for the second, third, fourth, etc. until you’ve reached the end of your story. It’s that simple, but unless you’re an experienced storyteller—and perhaps even if you are—it won’t be easy.

  1. Create Index Cards for Each Scene

Once your first round of cards is complete, it’s time to go deeper into your story. If you started with acts, break them down into chapters. If you began with chapters, whittle them down into scenes.

Challenge yourself to be as specific as possible.

Scenes are the basic unit of storytelling, as we’ve discussed, so your goal is to get down to the scene level.

If you write those short one-scene chapters like Dan Brown or David Baldacci, you’re in luck: that’s as deep as you need to go. Keep in mind that not everyone writes that way. Often, books have multiple scenes within each chapter, so keep breaking your index cards down until you have a card for each scene.

At this point, you might have to make an organizational decision. You can nest your scenes within your chapters (or your chapters within your acts), which will require a lot of hopping up and down levels to view the cards you’ve created across the whole story, but which will show fewer cards on the screen at any given time. Or you can keep them all on one screen. Here’s an example three-act story structure with three chapters in each act, opened to Act I. As you can see, when you’re viewing Act I, you’re limited to seeing just the cards within the selected folder.

Act-I

If you’re writing an epic fantasy novel, I would understand if you wanted to nest your chapters and scenes within larger containers like this. Storyboard one act at a time to make it less overwhelming.

Next, when we transition to a physical medium, you’ll be able to get a big picture view.

  1. Print Out Your Storyboard

You would need several screens to get a good bird’s-eye view of your story on the computer. Fortunately, now that you’ve begun to storyboard in Scrivener, you can transition to a physical version very easily. All you need is a printer and a pair of scissors.

While you’re in the Corkboard view, go to File > Print Current Document… and print out the digital notecards you’ve created. Scrivener will print these with dotted borders around each card.

Now, it’s arts and crafts day in school! Grab a pair of scissors and cut the paper into individual index cards. Then use an actual corkboard with pushpins—or the floor, or a long piece of butcher paper—to lay it all out.

I used this process when I was rewriting The Auriga Project. Here’s what my story looks like on a physical corkboard. Each card is a scene, and each group of cards represents a chapter.

tap-storyboard

One note of warning: if your description within the body of the index card in Scrivener is too long, the text will overflow to multiple cards when you print it out. If that happens, pare back your description or simply stack the cards after you cut them out.

This step isn’t strictly necessary. I don’t usually print out my storyboard until I’m on my second or third draft and I need a way to see the story with fresh eyes. Again, you’ll develop your own process. Do what’s best for you.

Corkboard Settings

This is a good time to point out some Corkboard settings. Using the button in the bottom right of the Corkboard interface, you can change the size, ratio, spacing, and arrangement of your Corkboard. Using the buttons with square icons in the screenshot below, you can also toggle between snap-to-grid and freeform arrangements.

Corkboard-settings-1

Another feature I like to use is auto-numbering for the index cards. To auto-number the cards, select “Show Card Numbers” in View > Corkboard Options. The screenshot below shows that option and a few others.

Corkboard-settings-2

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the colors in the photo of my physical Corkboard came through because of the labels I applied to my scenes. I created labels for each point-of-view character (blue for the male lead, green for the female lead). You can turn on label colors by going to View > Use Label Color In and selecting where you want the colors to show.  This comes through when you print them out, which has a nice visual effect. I’ll go into more detail about labels in the chapter on Metadata.

Four Storyboarding Questions

Now that you can see your story as a whole in a physical medium, rearrange it and move cards around. Don’t be afraid to mess it up, because your work is already saved in Scrivener at the point you printed it out. I find that seeing my story in a physical medium will reveal flaws I missed or couldn’t see on a smaller computer screen.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself at this phase:

  1. Does each scene have a purpose? If you remove a scene from your storyboard, what happens to your story? Make sure each scene contributes to the story in a meaningful way by revealing a new piece of information, developing your characters, and/or bringing your protagonist closer to (or farther from) their goal.
  2. Does your plot have continually rising action? Your story should have continually rising action so that the plot never goes slack or bores the reader. Read more about rising action online. 
  3. Is there a consistent timeline? Make sure that your timelines all match up, especially if you have multiple point-of-view characters. If your timeline is complex or difficult to keep track of, consider mapping it out in another tool called Aeon Timeline. They also supply specific documentation for integrating Aeon Timeline with Scrivener.
  4. Have you hit all the important plot points? You need an inciting incident, several scenes with rising action, a first plot point/doorway of no return, a second plot point/doorway of no return, a climax, and a resolution (at a minimum). Refer to the story craft books listed in the further reading recommendations if these terms for key story moments aren’t familiar to you.

If you look closely at the photograph of my corkboard for The Auriga Project, you’ll notice a couple edits that I made at this phase in the process. Can you spot them?

I added three scenes (and removed a few others.) Don’t take this step for granted!

Then Make Changes in Scrivener

Once you’ve rearranged your story physically and you are happy with it, copy any changes you made back into Scrivener. I know this part is tedious, but keep in mind that all this work will make your story stronger—and make it easier for you to write it (or rewrite it!) when you are done.

Now, Start Writing Your Draft!

Finally, you’re ready to start drafting. If you used this storyboarding process to outline a story you haven’t yet written, here’s what you do: duplicate your storyboard and drag the copy into the Manuscript folder of the Binder. If you haven’t already done so, arrange the scenes into chapter folders.

Since you worked so hard to break the story out into scenes, your Manuscript is already arranged according to the best practices for structure in Scrivener that we covered earlier. You can then simply open the first scene and start typing. The description you wrote on the front of the index cards appears in the Synopsis section (top of the Notes pane in the Inspector), which makes it easy to reference while you’re drafting.

The reason I suggest moving a copy of the storyboard you made instead of dragging the original over is that your story is going to continue to evolve as you write it. It’s educational to compare the story you actually write to the storyboard you prepared once your draft is complete.

If, however, you used storyboarding to help you get unstuck or to revise your story at the end of a draft, you’ll have to update your Manuscript folder to match your new outline. That means deleting scenes, moving scenes around, rearranging chapters, etc. Again, keep a copy of your storyboard for comparison later.

 

Get Your Writing Super Powers

3d_cover_150px_thumbnail

Transform your writing process with the best writing software on the market. Enter your information below to learn more.

Powered by ConvertKit

About Matt Herron

Matt Herron is the author of Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Practice. He has a degree in English Literature, a dog named Elsa, and an adrenaline addiction sated by rock climbing and travel. The best way to get in touch with him is on Twitter @mgherron.

Leave a Reply