From Storyboards to Novel: How I learned to write a novel using a linked-story approach


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My initial goal was to write twenty-two, linked-story vignettes revolving around three main characters: Cate Porter, Natalie (Nat) Roberts, and Connor Braun, who are brought together on a college-sponsored, study-abroad trip to England. I had the basics of the story, but my challenge was how to manage the each character’s vignettes. To accomplish this overwhelming task, I did two things. First, I broke each character’s story arc down into individual storyboards. Second, I wrote out what each character wants; what happens if they do/don’t get it; what was at stake for each person; and as a result of the first three questions, what would happen next. Once the planning was done, I started writing my linked stories, and quickly discovered that the form of linked vignettes was not working. I tried to write through this complication, and in doing so I found that the novel form emerged instead of a series of twenty-two separate vignettes.

My first chapter is an instance where I used storyboards and a linked-stories approach. The chapter begins with Cate’s first-person narration of arriving at the airport, having a drink at the bar with her mother, and what she wants from this trip. While at the bar she notices travelers around her, specifically a blonde girl across the bar. The next section of the chapter is told from Nat’s perspective. From her seat at the bar, she narrates her day’s events up to that point, fills the reader in on her fear of flying, and notices Cate and her mother across the bar. She is also the first to see (from the bar) Connor walking through the airport. Finally, Connor arrives at the airport and explains his feelings for Cate, who is his older brother’s ex-girlfriend and the girl he is in love with. Additionally, Connor narrates the first interaction between him and Cate at the gate and together they are introduced to Nat at the gate via the trip director’s roll call. Having the individual, visual story arcs allowed me to see more easily where each character’s story touched one another. I use those points of connections to link their stories in the first chapter and will continue to do so through the novel. For example, the point at which Nat’s story and Cate’s story is overlapped is the reason why Nat’s story is rooted at the bar.

Prior to this I haven’t written any fiction, nor have I written anything longer than 30 pages. Taking the time to do individual storyboards and think about where and how the storylines linked, as well as articulating the answers to the four questions I mentioned above, allowed me to have a clearer focus. I’m psyched to see how my novel will turn out and I know I would never have obtained the momentum I have now without using storyboards and a linked-story approach.

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