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Finding the Gaps

Tips for WritersWelcome to yet another installment that addresses how to use a storyboard in the process of novel writing. This week we are using the storyboard to find gaps. But first, let’s have a fresh look at how the storyboard aligns with the hero’s journey.

Each circle on the storyboard corresponds to the arc of the hero’s journey. The storyboard, based on the one that Mary Carroll Moore teaches in her workshops, is a W. Starting at the left, each point on the W is a circle that represents a key scene in the hero’s journey:

  1. The call: the opening scene in which the hero is called out of the ordinary world. Therefore we need to see the ordinary world, there hero’s attachment to it and thus her refusal to accept the call. We also meet the character who will be the hero’s mentor or a supernatural aid.
  2. The test: here’s where you (as writer) develop conflict through tests, challenges, temptations, allies and enemies. It’s the beginning of the hero’s transformation.
  3. The cave: this is the crisis, the hero’s darkest hour where she falls into the abyss of her most extreme ordeal. It’s a place where it feels like the hero has met her end, but is reborn. Her own power or will to live is revealed and she crawls out of the cave.
  4. The transformation: having survived, the hero is changed and begins the journey home. There are rewards and resurrection as the story heads toward resolution.
  5. The return: the hero returns to her ordinary world, but is changed. We now see her with the gift or the elixir which is her knowledge of how she’s changed.

6-Anchors Located on the W

It’s important to keep the story arc in mind as you search for gaps in your book. Writing is to produce material. Once you have that material, the storyboard is a tool to help you arrange that material into a compelling novel.

Books (novel, memoir, creative non-fiction) are large productions. Writers use the term WIP to mean work-in-progress. But I like to think of WIP to mean work-is-project because writing a book is similar to managing a project. I call my unrevised novels, projects. We write all this material and ultimately we need to manage it.

The storyboard can help you the way a flow chart can guide the complex processes of a large project that involves many team members. While your book doesn’t require a team, the complexity exists in its development. Writing in scenes is the beginning of breaking down the mass into smaller chunks (see last week’s post, Writing a Novel Scene by Scene).

Once your scenes are committed to sticky notes, you now have the ability to see your story arc. Are your five essential scenes reflecting the arc of the hero’s journey? Does your book have a beginning, middle and end?

So here’s where you begin to sort out gaps in the structure. Any missing scenes, you can write in a different color of ink. When I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2012 I want to finish my novel. I already had 25,000 words, but during November I wrote 50,000 new words just by writing the the “gap scenes” that I had identified as missing elements to the story.

After NaNoWriMo 2012, I then meshed the 25,000 words with the 50,000 words. The scenes were complete, but also a complete mess. The storyboard allowed me to identify different gaps, such as transitions, repetitions or unnecessary scenes. My final draft was reduced to 63,000 words.

With your scenes committed to sticky notes, you can easily rearrange different scenarios for how your book is unfolding. This is also how you can get out of a linear telling of your story, too. What happens to the story when you begin to rearrange scenes?

Another gap you will find, especially if you rearrange scenes, is one of transition. Maybe a later scene gets placed earlier to create more conflict, but it’s now residing between two disparate scenes. It may take some revising to create new transitions. It may also take you deeper into your story.

Next week we’ll look more closely at the three-act arc in the storyboard to discuss how to map the inner and outer story.



  1. Annecdotist says:

    I like the analogy of project management here, Charli, acknowledging the complexity of the process. The separate team members could be the cast of characters or perhaps the various plots and subplots all contributing to the whole. Like people in a work team, these various threads have different strengths and weaknesses, with all needed to pull together to create an integrated story.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’m so glad that analogy works for you! Writing is such a mixture of allowing room for the creative process, yet directing its flow into something manageable.

  2. Lisa Reiter says:

    I will get here.. I’m hanging onto my board to keep my sanity. I know I’m just crazy busy now until mid September and need to focus on the family fun rather than missing that by worrying about what I can’t get around to immediately! Keep ’em coming. I love it.

    Will eventually post up how my board is looking! (It looks a lot like yours and I feel creative!)

    However, I’m still writing post-its and trying to achieve some edits on bits I have already written to keep a would be editor happy. Between running the house, the appointments of my budding actor/opera singer/chat show host.. and managing my 5 acres of weed ridden land, I can see there’s not much time left for writing over the summer! 😕

    • Charli Mills says:

      Your life at the moment is like when the garden harvest comes in and your up to your ears in tomatoes and zucchini. Overwhelming, but you keep picking and reminding yourself that this is what you set out to do! I’m thrilled you have your storyboard in play and I hope it helps with the process so you can go have some summer fun, too. As for the weeds–low priority. 🙂

  3. TanGental says:

    What about this from the great St Kurt? A storyboard for all occasions….

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ah…St. Kurt…my storyboard, no matter how massive, how festooned with sticky notes, will pale in comparison. So slick, that St. Kurt.

      While I like the imagery that sums up different stories, THIS board you can own! Make it your way, like ordering a Whopper.

  4. […] develop your characters; research any topics or scenarios that are beyond your common knowledge; identify gaps; edit; revise; proof and […]

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