Friday, July 10, 2009

Result of Storyboard Method to Scene Writing

I'm sorry I haven't posted in awhile but fell ill and got behind...


As follows is my application of the Storyboard method of scene-writing as described in Carolyn Wheat’s HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION (pps. 146-147).

Stage Setup

Time: Afternoon

Place: A McDonald’s restaurant or another fast food

Season: Cold – the sun hasn’t shone since the victim’s death

Sounds: Noise of old, grizzled men begging and laughing hysterically, servers speaking Spanish

Smells: the special sauce, grease

Sights – dirty tables, sullen clerks, hamburger juice squirting, special sauce

Tastes – coffee – strong, surprisingly good

Touch – sticky table, plastic seating

A meeting between the main character and one of the police detectives, a pregnant African-American woman. Drew wants to tell her all that she has discovered about the case. Sgt. Reynolds is mad about her interfering and tells her info about the arrest that was made of the housekeeper that Drew didn’t know about. Now it does seem more credible that maybe the police arrested the right person after all.

What physical objects surround the character: other diners

What details of their surroundings do they notice and/or comment on? Maybe Sgt. Reynolds drew the protagonist out to a more dangerous neighborhood to meet on the pretext that she had to interview someone on another case in order to intimidate her. Maybe makes the point that usually the criminals are obvious like they are here in this neighborhood, and it’s not all the scheming that Drew thinks it is behind it. Drew makes the point that if it’s that obvious, then wouldn’t the husband be a suspect and he makes a pretty good one, too, given that he lied about his alibi, and that since he was getting fertility treatments, the pregnancy couldn’t be his. Maybe Drew tries to make some kind of point about justice and how people of color are more likely to be arrested for crimes hoping that she will get Sgt. Reynolds to relate to this, but Sgt. Reynolds is cynical and thinks it’s liberal nonsense she’s spouting.

How do the characters’ clothes reflect personality? Sgt. Reynolds is wearing pregnancy jeans and flats with a blazer.
Drew wears business casual and clogs

Does any physical object remind someone of the past? Drew thinks about her current life seems full of McDonald’s now. Maybe this is Sgt. Reynolds’ old beat, and she feels more comfortable here.

Does any physical object take on symbolic meaning: Pink hamburger that Drew is sickened by – the death of the victim?


What’s the large action? Drew telling Sgt. Reynolds about what she’s found out on the case.

What smaller actions make up the large action? Sgt. Reynolds is eating a Whopper and fries, and a milkshake. Drew drinks coffee.

How does the character’s performance of the action reflect character? Sgt. Reynolds is unselfconscious about eating. She is confident in herself and her judgments about the case. She feels inferior about not having as much education as Drew, and makes fun of her for being a professor and being “so smart.”

How does the other character react to action? Drew tries to get on the same side as Sgt. Reynolds but it’s difficult. She is used to having to be tough as well from having to stand up to student pressure.


What do the characters talk about? The case.

What’s going on under the surface? Sgt. Reynolds is resentful at the time Drew is taking up and feels inferior to Drew’s education.
Drew is intimidated by Sgt. Reynolds’s tough demeanor, but isn’t going to back down.

Do they disagree? Most of their conversation is about disagreeing.


What’s the outcome for the main character scene? Sgt. Reynolds doesn’t listen. Drew wonders whether she has been wrong.

What does the main character feel, have, or want at the beginning of the scene? Drew wants to convince Sgt. Reynolds that there are other possibilities besides Blanca, whom they have arrested at this point.

What has the character gained or lost? Drew has at least gained the relief of telling all that she knows. She has lost her conviction that Blanca is innocent.

How does the gain/loss affect the character’s overall story goal? For awhile, Drew may decide not to keep pursuing the case, and she will question if what she has been doing is worthwhile.

What’s the climax of the scene? When Sgt. Reynolds snaps at her that she said she will tell the detectives in the missing congressional intern case about the information Drew has told her.

Do you have a curtain line? “I said I’d tell them, and I will.”


This exercise took some time, but I got a lot out of it. I often get stuck in writing scenes, and I think it may be partly because I don’t know how to write it and what should be covered. As a result, I don’t write anything. This is an excellent exercise to counteract the overthinking and stuckness that I’m sure other writers are prone to as well. It helps in planning scenes and frees up a lot of blocks because it makes you think through so many elements before you even start writing the scene. You can also use it when you have already written a scene, as Carolyn Wheat suggests, and you want to go deeper.

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