Posts Tagged 'storyboard'

The Benefits of Being Mean

Being mean isn’t something I’m naturally good at. I try to be a good person. Try to be thoughtful of others and unselfish. In my writing pursuits I expected this would always serve me well, but not so. It turns out that being mean is a core requirement of writing. Why? Because if you’re always nice to your characters, nothing interesting will ever happen.

If J.K.Rowling was nice to Harry Potter, Voldemort would never have been born, Harry’s parents would still be alive and Malfoy would have been a delightful young chap. If J.K was kind, when Harry was invited to a school of Wizardry it would have been one big, joyous adventure with no danger or teen angst or Trolls/Werewolves/Deatheaters/’insert scary thing here’. If J.K was a generous soul, Harry would have had a very pleasant time at school, graduated and lived Happily Ever After. Sound boring to you? I’m putting myself to sleep just contemplating it.

As writers, we need to drag our characters through hell and back before the story is through. We need to create tension, drama, action, tough choices – more so than tends to exist in real life. I think this is why I enjoy fantasy so much, as there is such potential to raise the stakes beyond anything we experience in our own world. But being mean is harder than it sounds. I get incredibly attached to my characters – even protective of them – so without realising it I often let them avoid the tough stuff.

I’ve been using the ‘three act structure’ to outline the urban fantasy I’m currently developing (something Robert McKee discusses in Story and Alexandra Sokoloff studies over on her blog). I had a number of scenes I knew would feature in the book, and had written them onto story cards. I was then working out how they would work across the three acts – where they would fit, what would work as each act’s turning point and how each event would interact with the others. In doing this I realised parts of the story were severely lacking. Know why? Because I was being too kind to my characters. I had to up the stakes, make their choices harder, create greater consequences. Would this character really adjust so well to this turning point? No! They’d rail against it and make things harder for my protagonist. Would this piece of information be so easy to track down? No! My protagonist should have to prove himself before he can discover that pearler.

With this done, my story has filled out significantly, and as you can see my storyboard is nearly complete. Although I’m not sure how I’ll sleep tonight. I’ve done enough mean things to these characters to earn a lifetime of damnation…

Storyboarding

Rabbit - balloonWhen it comes to picture books I love the initial writing and character design phases, but it’s when I sit down to storyboard that the magic happens. Images and words weave together, characters run across the page, meaning unfurls and the story comes alive.

Storyboarding is designing the 14 spreads of a picture book – combining the words and illustrations on the page to create the final layout you’ll see in the printed form. When I’m storyboarding, there are three main things I keep in mind:

  1. Mood: what is the mood of each scene and how can I capture it?
  2. Character: how can I best convey the essence of each character?
  3. Story Arc: how can I build the story towards the climax and deliver a satisfying end?

For me, these are the essential elements of story. They’re especially important (and difficult) to capture in a picture book, as there’s so little room and time in which to do so. These are some techniques I use to capture the story elements and create interest when storyboarding:

  • Vary the Layout: such as close-ups vs distance shots, different viewpoint angles, changing where you place the characters on the page from spread to spread
  • Consider Positive & Negative Space: too many consecutive spreads with full bleed images can be overwhelming, or worse, boring. Moving between full-page and part-page images creates contrast
  • Match Composition & Mood: if a character is shocked / scared, a severe close up of their eyes may heighten this for the viewer, or if a character is lonely, a distance shot with blank space around them could evoke a sense of isolation
  • Body-Language: make sure the characters’ positioning, stance and interaction with the environment is consistent, but varies across the spreads for interest
  • Use of Colour: even though I storyboard in black and white, I think a lot about colour.  Colour can be used for contrast, to create focus and to evoke mood

2009-11-03Here you can see an example storyboard from my latest picture book. I created the template in word, with four spreads to a page, and I print off as many as I need for each project. The images are small, as thumbnail sketches are best for studying composition. My rule is to keep the images quick and rough, as I shouldn’t be focusing on how ‘good’ an image is at this stage: layout is key. Most importantly, I need to be able to view all spreads at once, as this is the best way to spot repetition. I always write the text next to the images so I can work on them together – once I’ve designed the spreads I often cut back on the text in order to let the images speak for themselves. Storyboards are useful even for non-illustrators – you can lay out the words, ensuring your story fits well across the 14 spreads and gives the illustrator enough variety to work with.

I’ve finished this storyboard for now, but just like a novel draft, I’ll now leave it to simmer for a while. When I come back to it with fresh eyes, I know I’ll be better able to spot its strengths and weaknesses.

Illustration Monday

For the moment I’ve vacated my mind of rabbits (a tough job) all to make way for a rather stubborn duck – the star of my latest picture book project. Although his title of ‘star’ is contentious. He may well be thrown from his throne by a character that is definitely, 100% NOT a duck. These two have been waging a little war in my head for the last few weeks, both competing for attention in their own unique ways. Duck is demanding and difficult but endearing in his own way. Not-Duck is free spirited and willful and also a little loopy. The project is still in the character design phase at this stage, but I’m almost ready to do up a storyboard. I’ve made the images below using ink, watercolour and digital collage.

Duck:

2009-10-25bNot-Duck:

2009-10-25


About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:

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