• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Making Sense of 100K Words – A Storyboard by Zoë Miller

Writing.ie | Resources | Plotting and Planning

Zoë Miller

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I’ve often laughed at my obsession with collecting stationery, but the day I tossed a package of cheap, multi-coloured index cards into my shopping trolley was the day I rescued my novel and saved my sanity.

I’m the writer who automatically gravitates towards the stationery section of any bookshop as soon as I’ve finished poring over the books. Felt pens, coloured post-its, neon-coloured paperclips as well as notebooks of all shapes and sizes are taking up space in my writing room press. Even in the middle of my dash around the supermarket aisles, my pace slows to a crawl as I pass by the stationery shelves in case anything catches my fancy. And on one such recent shopping trip I picked up packets of multi-coloured index cards, thinking they might come in handy some time. And how they did!

zm-1After eight months of work on Book 8, some scenes flowing easily enough, others inching across the page after blood-letting inducing efforts, I had 100k words of a 110k novel written, but it badly needed restructuring, refining and rewriting before I considered it fit for human eyes other than my own. Things is, with so many words spread over forty-odd chapters, it was impossible to (a) know where to start,  (b) get a feel for the amount of editing required, (c) picture what exactly was contained in each chapter, and (d) figure out how best to pin down the story given that I hadn’t written it in linear order.

Sometimes you have to run with one character, drafting up their scenes while you are firmly ensconced in that character’s head and the ebb and flow of their story arc. Within the overall structure, I had written chapters that were either important turning points, or provided some breathing space between conflict and resolution, or put those poor unfortunate characters under more pressure, but now I wasn’t sure where best to fit them in to the overall flow, as they had been written so much out of sequence. Mind you, I had written what I knew would be the final chapter in a fit of enthusiasm when inspiration struck one rainy Monday evening as to how it all would end.

I printed out all 300 pages, spreading the chapters across the floor, and I tried to see how I might get to grips with the remaining work required. Never mind getting to grips with it, I couldn’t even see where I’d make a start as I just seemed to be looking into jumble of narrative and dialogue, interspersed with some back story.  Then I remembered the package of coloured index cards tucked into the drawer.

zm-2Each chapter of Book 8 is written from the point of view of either the main character or one of the two secondary characters. Using one index card per chapter, and allocating one colour per character, I went through the script from start to finish, jotting down the chapter number and main event on each card and I laid them all out on my desk in the order as they appeared.

This worked for me. Seeing the story line arranged visually like this, any gaps in the plot became very apparent. The most dramatic way to sequence the scenes, allowing for occasional flashes of back story, were suddenly obvious.  Incidents of tension and conflict, and scenes with emotional punch were easy to identify so they could in turn be heightened further, and I could see where those vital plot points needed to be positioned for maximum effect. I was also able to see where the flow needed to be adjusted to give space to each character depending on their dynamic in the story. I left the layout on my desk overnight and returned to it the following morning, viewing it with fresh eyes, juggling it around again, and adding in some green cards to indicate new chapters /scenes that needed to be written. Once I was happy with the final running order, I marked up the revised chapter numbers on each card (in my fancy felt pen of course) and stuck them to a board.

zm-3I have my storyboard pinned to the wall now, facing my writing desk, and it makes me smile and reminds me of how far I’ve come with these characters since last October. The sequence is not set in stone. As I revise further, tightening the pace, some chapters might amalgamate or get switched around once more, but at least I’ve a clear picture of what I’m working with as I fine tune the draft.  The script will be printed out again, because nothing beats sitting down and reading a hard copy of it to help see typos and apply the final polish. But in the words of Winston Churchill, I know this is only the end of the beginning on the road to publication.

Because after all this, it’s over to the editor…

(c) Zoë Miller

A Question of Betrayal is Zoë’s latest novel and is now available in all good bookshops or pick up your copy online here!

About A Question of Betrayal

On a windswept beach in County Cork, a woman rescues a young man from the sea. A gifted musician, Luis Meyer’s life has fallen apart and he’s determined to end it all, until an angel of mercy pulls him from the water…

More than thirty years later, Carrie Cassidy is still reeling from the deaths of her adored parents, John and Sylvie, in a tragic accident. She’s flitting from one job to another, unable to move forward, unable to forget the past. She can’t even commit to Mark, the love of her life, who has now moved on.

Then a mysterious visitor reveals a secret that forces Carrie to delve into her mother’s past. When she does, she discovers a woman struggling to come to terms with her choices – a newlywed who, it seems, was in love with another man.

Determined to find out the truth about her mother’s relationship with Luis Meyer, Carrie must confront painful and possibly dangerous truths. And the only person who can help her is the one she’s hurt the most…

About the author

Zoë Miller writes contemporary fiction laced with mystery and intrigue. She was born on the south side of Dublin, where she lives with her husband. She has two daughters and a son. Zoë has been writing since childhood, and has always had her head stuck in a book. Before turning to novels, she had short stories and feature journalism published. With seven novels now published by Hachette Books Ireland, Zoë fits in her writing between the day job, and making time for her family. You can contact Zoë at www.zoemillerauthor.com, or Twitter , or Facebook.


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