Some people are visual learners. I am one of those people. My whole life I was most effective when I combined what I was doing or learning with some sort of visual stimulus. I could sit in a lecture hall for 45 minutes and not remember a thing when I left. I could read that same lecture on my computer and remember it forever. That’s just how I am. If I can see it, I’ll never forget it. Tell me your name, I’ll forget it. Show me your face, I’ll remember you forever. That’s just how I am.
It’s the same when I work out problems. I can’t think through it in my head. I need some sort of physical representation of it. When given a math problem, I always had to write it down. When I was in a spelling bee, I was the kid of drew the word out in the air. When I’m managing projects at work, I need to create some sort of visual breakdown of the personnel resources that I have to allocate. And when it comes to breaking a story, I’ve found writing things down on a text file to be missing some sort of tangible element that I subconsciously need.
Yes, I was looking at something (the words on the screen), but I wasn’t always able to feel the story, if that makes sense. I couldn’t see it as a whole. I could only see all the beats that could be displayed on my screen at one time. It was hard to get a taste of velocity in my story. To get a taste of what the rhythm was. To get a sense of where the gaps were. I’d always been able to work past these issues (otherwise I would have never been able to any of my scripts), but I always wondered if there was a better way I could be doing this.
Enter… the board.
I’d tinkered with note cards in the past. But I never had anywhere to stick them. I’d keep them collected in their own little “acts,” and sometimes spread them out on a table, or the floor. But even doing that only showed me parts of the story. I couldn’t see the whole thing. Until I started to stick them up on the board.
I’ve been able to beat out three stories using the board so far. Two of which I was able to realize that, while they were good ideas, there wasn’t enough there to make it a story. I was able to realize this much sooner than I normally would. Weeks instead of months sooner. And on my current project I was able to figure every element out, until I had enough beats to put together a complete story.
It started fast. I knew a few big beats. Some twists. Some turns. A few key scenes I knew had to be there. I stuck them up on the board where I thought they’d go. Roughly two lines per act (with act 2 getting split in half, and thus 4 lines). I was able to see where my holes are. I was able to see if my major twists seemed too far together. I was able to see when I had too much happening too fast. Or when I didn’t have things happening fast enough. But most importantly, I was able to see it all at once, and for me that made the difference.
I’m still not 100% finalized on all the big beats. I’ve tinkered with and played around with a few of the cards. But there are no gaps anymore. It’s more or less fine tuning pacing. Making sure that everything feels like it’s where it’s supposed to be.
When I’m done, I’ll take everything I’ve got up on the board and put them into the text files I usually use. I’ll then begin my regular outlining process, going more in depth to each of the beats. As I work on that I’ll likely change up some of the stuff I’ve got on the board, but I’ll make sure to keep the two pieces of info in sync.
Will this method work for everyone? I don’t think so. It can be a little tedious. And if you don’t have somewhere you can hang up a decent sized cork board, you’re already off to a bad start. But if you’re a visual learner, and a tactile kind of person, you might want to give it a try. I’d never found the notecard thing to work for me in the past. But once I started to stick them up on a wall and look at all of them at once, it clicked in my head and suddenly made sense. I’ve got a feeling it’ll be the same for other people out there as well.