Question from Michael,
As a young screenwriter, I’ve recently invested in a massive whiteboard to start plotting out my most recent script. Having said that, would you be able to do a feature on the whiteboard being part of the screenwriter’s process? You seem to be able to dig up the best images, snippets of interviews… I’d love to see if you can do anything with it.
A whiteboard can be quite a helpful tool, but we have to frame this discussion with an obvious point: It’s not the whiteboard itself, but what goes on the whiteboard that is critical. And that means we have to do sufficient work in prep-writing to make sure we have surfaced the raw content necessary to craft a strong narrative.
I am talking research, brainstorming, character development, more character development, even more character development, and so on.
Personally I prefer to do my actual plotting with index cards and the cork board wall I have in my office. There’s just something about the tactile feel of those cards, which I can shuffle around as I try different alignments for the plot, then tack each one up on the wall, so eventually I have this linear version of my story which I can step back and see laid out in front of me — I find that works best.
I should note I like to have visual references for my stories, anything from an image that conjures up a mood or a sense of place in the script to photos of people who I feel may resemble my characters, and they go up on the cork board as well.
I also have a whiteboard and that’s where I do some of brainstorming. The majority of it, I do in a file I call a Master Brainstorming List. That’s where I put down every thought I have along the way as well as all of the character interviews, sit-downs, monologues, key research, a first stab at some scenes, and so on.
When I see a pattern, theme, or motif emerge from my brainstorming, I’ll write that on the whiteboard.
If I have a significant question about the plot, I’ll put that on the whiteboard.
I use character archetypes and I have a visual paradigm for those, so I’ll draw that on the whiteboard, once I figure out the interrelationships between the primary characters.
I also like to draw something like this on my whiteboard during the plotting process:
What I draw is actually a flat horizontal line with two vertical lines, just that. And that gets me thinking about Four Primary Plotline Points: Beginning, end of Act One, end of Act Two, Ending. Key to figure those out as they serve as the backbone of your story structure.
So as I think about it just now, I guess I use the whiteboard as a midpoint between my Master Brainstorming List and the index cards / cork board.
But you know what? There’s no right way to do any of this. Some writers I know hate index cards. I’ve been in writer’s offices where they had a whiteboard filled with chicken scratch I could not begin to figure out, something like this:
Didn’t matter it made no sense to me, it only mattered that it made sense to them! They preferred to do their plotting on the whiteboard.
Whiteboard. Cork board. Legal pad. Evernote. Papyrus. Hey, whatever works!
How about you, GITS readers? Do you use a whiteboard? If so, how? What other tools or practices do you use to plot out your story?