August 11, 2009


Some writers use index cards to track characters and plot. Others prefer multi-colored Post-Its. While writing the first draft of The Mermaid’s Daughter, I used hand-written scene trackers: diagonal lines on pieces of plain bond paper, with scenes plotted upwards along the line (a reminder to keep increasing the tension), and a different color assigned to each character. It’s a strategy I learned from Martha Alderson at her Blockbuster Plots workshop.

After completing a chapter, I’d tack up the scene tracker around a mermaid sarong draped on the wall behind my desk. It looked nice, but wasn’t suitable for revisions. I needed space I could reach without clambering over bookcases, desks, or file cabinets–which pretty much eliminated every wall in my office.

So, where to put a storyboard that showed the whole book but still allowed easy access while I was deep in revisions?

I considered a huge bulletin board, but that still meant groping around furniture. I wondered about taping the pages to my sole window, but my office faces north and I’m not ready to give up what little sunshine I get in the late afternoon.

The answer came when I stopped focusing on solid surfaces and started thinking about space. Eureka! My office includes an open closet. Now curtains hang where doors once rolled. On these curtains I’ve pinned page protectors to hold chapters and other pertinent parts of my book.

There’s room for the title, and colored pages to show the different sections: beginning (green), middle (yellow), and end (red).

Traffic light colors. An old classroom standby.

I also created a chapter template on my computer–Macintosh, the only way to go–that’s more detailed than the hand-written one. Now I can add, replace, or discard, whatever the story dictates, and print out a new page in seconds. Best of all, when I’m finished, the pages can be stored in a binder for quick reference while I’m working on my sequel (or prequel, as the case may be).

Easy. Any old curtain will do. Cheap. A box of page protectors, a packet of safety pins, and a binder cost less than 10 bucks. Versatile. Changes are a mouse click away.

Hardly glamorous, but it does the job.


  1. That is very cool! I've been looking for a way to get organized. Dates are very important to my story, so I have to get a calendar and get it fixed. I've been thinking about doing a story wall, but I'm not sure where I would put it.

    These are neat ideas - thanks!

  2. This looks like an awesome way to keep your story organized. :) *high five for Macs* Have you tried Scrivener? It has a note card/cork board method of organizing scenes and chapters. I can't outline to save my life, but I love the idea of being able to see an overview of the story like this. Great idea!

  3. Hey, thanks for visiting, Danyelle. (BTW, I came to your blog via Elana Johnson, not Roth.)

    I read something about Scrivener on someone's blog. I seriously need to cut back on blog reading, it's weaseling into my writing time. But there are so many good ones it's hard to stop.

    One of the reasons I like my storyboard is because it gets me away from the computer. I have a note on my Mac to TAKE A BREAK AND GO OUTSIDE! but when I'm deep in my story it's hard to leave.

  4. Kathryn: I finally made it over here for a visit.

    I like your storyboard. It seems suited to whole chapters. I think the index cards are better suited to plot points which is the stage I'm in right now.

    I am curious as to what a chapter template looks like. Sorry, no Mac. Not yet anyway.

    Love the mermaids

  5. I know this is a really old post, but I found it by googling "storyboards writers and novels" I like your ideas and love your storyboard. I have scrivener, but I like to see everything lined up in giant form so I can see the whole picture. I am glad I found your blog. I am a new follower.


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