In order to get my students to think about moving from writing small, disparate, individual things toward big, unified, linked things, I've been having them use a technique I call "reverse storyboarding."
Basically, they take the book we're studying and--in any way that makes sense to them--thumbnail the chapters or stories, then display and talk us through their reverse storyboard. I told them: It can be on paper (post its, index cards, posterboard, drawn on blackboard) or digital (via Scrivener, Corkboard.me, linoit.com, a website, Prezi, etc.), but it must be visual and there must be some logic to how you arrange it so that we can “see” the entire structure of the book.
These are my students, and these are the questions I wanted them to consider as they engaged this activity:
|Aubrie Cox used a mobile to create a three-dimensional grid |
in order to talk about the structure of A Visit from the Goon Squad.
What can I learn about how to write my own book from reading this book? What did I learn from the activity of storyboarding the book in reverse? (I'm going to let them answer that question in their own posts.)
|John Bahler used butcher paper to chart |
the character subplots in Mrs. Bridge.
What is its formula? It’s map or blueprint or logic or “scaffolding” (a wonderful term used by Sean Lovelace).
|Tyler Petty created a website to create a chronological timeline for each character in A Visit from the Goon Squad. Find it at http://goonsquadtimelines.weebly.com/|
What principle determines the book’s structure or chaptering? What is a chapter? What is a story? What makes a chapter feel like a chapter and not a scene?
|Heather Gemmen Wilson used corkboard.me to keep track of every time Mrs. Bridge |
said she'd do something--but didn't do it. Obviously, this happened a lot.
How does the book juggle the different subplots within the structure it’s chosen? How do you make sure that each subplot has its own arc—beginning, middle, end? Imagining that a novel is like a season of a TV series, does the book develop all the subplots each episode (like Friday Night Lights or Mad Men or Glee, for example) or does the book tend to focus on one subplot or character each episode (like LOST, for example).
In this book, how does the arc of each story compare to the arc of the whole book?
|Kat Greene used Prezi to re-shuffle the stories in Winesburg, Ohio.|
|For Linda Taylor, the tornado scene in Mrs. Bridge |
became a way to organize the different vignettes in the book--tornadic-ally!
|Stacye Cline used CDs that looked like albums to talk about |
the circular structure of A Visit from the Goon Squad.
(My apologies to Josh Flynn and Katie Iniech, who presented on Please Don't Come Back from the Moon the night that my camera/phone was on the fritz. I'll get their reverse storyboards up later!)
I found these presentations fascinating, and I think my students learned a lot about linking from this process of unlinking, relinking, reshuffling, rebuilding, straightening, unstraightening, charting, color coding, encapsulating--which forced them to notice things they might have missed otherwise.
Now, they are getting ready to workshop their own linked stories, and they're not reverse storyboarding anymore. They're charting their own course now.