Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Story Boarding

A lot of writers pull inspiration for their work from different places. Some of them take years to let the story brew in their heads while others lock themselves in a hotel room with a bottle of booze and not come back until a full play has thrown itself from their fingers to the keyboard.  But sometimes inspiration doesn't strike us, we have to go off looking for it. One way that I go about this is the same way people get anything online these days. I turn to the power of Google. A Google image search can bring all kinds of inspiration for any kind of work that you need. There's no right or wrong way to go about this. This is the method I use.

Story Boarding Your Play

I'm going to use the images I'm using as a story board for a play that I'm working on called "A Thousand Miles High". All I really know is that I want a Steam Punk play about a city that's floating in the air. I had an image of a woman who's been convicted or a crime that she didn't commit and now a friend must fight for her honor. That's literally the only little chunk that I had. how am I going to go any further? That's where a story board can come in. Here are the steps I use.

Establishing Shot

I always pick a place where I think that the play could take place.  It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to get the creative juices flowing.

 Act One

 Next I gather all of the pictures following the aesthetic that I like and order them until I get something that resembles two or three acts. They can be things that seem like a progression of events, changes in texture, or differences in color. They just have to be pictures that speak to you.

I tend to choose pictures that communicate friction or dynamics. I often look up pictures of stage plays or movies. These always have dynamic images.

I always ask myself. "What are these characters saying to each other? Where did they just come from? Where are they gong now after they finish what they're doing here?" The answers to these questions bring all sorts of story ideas.

Your first act pictures will be the ones that leave you with questions that needs to be answered and characters that are begging for a voice.

Act Two

The second act always brings conflict and problems that need to be solved.  We normally change locations and up the battles. The second act is obstacles that need to be overcome and times for the hero to rise to glory.

The change of location can usually mean a change of colors, style, and texture. It gives us a sense that we've traveled during the play.

A battle always livens up the second act. I always ask myself. "What are they fighting over? Who do I want to win? Where do they come from?"

B. Chris Hardin

At the end of the second act we should leave with a cliff hanger. We should be having the questions, "Is the hero going to succeed? How will we win victory?" 

Act Three

Act three still has conflict. But this conflict has more of a final note to it. It's all about good versus evil and one side winning against the other. If all the battles in act two are epic all of the battles in act three are personal.  It's the hero versus the villain.

But at the end of the day we should be left with a feeling that one side has one and can breathe easy. In the good ole days people knew the play was a comedy because everyone got married at the end. If they were all dead it was a tragedy. Maybe you can play around with that convention but the only thing you looking for is something that says, "This story has now ended."

And you can clearly see what story I'm going for.

Some Final Thoughts

  • There will be some holes. These pictures are just to get the ideas flowing and a sense of structure.  It's your job as the writer to fill in those holes. 
  • Don't settle for just anything. Keep looking for the pictures that inspire you to write. When you get to the point where all that you can think about is writing this play, then you know that you have been inspired.
  • When you get a great idea of your play then you can then use other pictures to create a morgue of characters, places, and things that your characters will encounter.  I may touch more on that in another post. 
  • Directors and Designers love photos! If your play ever gets produced you can use your collection of pictures to describe what you were thinking when you wrote the play. And then you can ask them to bring their own pictures about what they're thinking for the show. Working with pictures means that you bring concrete ideas to the table and not abstract ideas in your head that people can argue over.
Do you see any story ideas in the pictures that I don't? Do you have any ideas about story boarding that I didn't touch on? Please leave a comment below.

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