Archive for the 'on writing' Category


Visual Tools for Writers: Storyboards

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Storyboards are illustrations placed in sequence to help visualize a scene or narrative. Used for 80 years or more in film and animation studios, they have a lot to offer writers. While some storyboards for movies are regarded as works of art in and of themselves, drawing ability is not necessary to use storyboards. Stick figures are characters too.

I tend to use storyboards when I am writing complex actions. It’s easy to get caught up in the words and have the actions lose their gravity. By sketching the scene, even in the most basic form, I can track movements and consequences. It grounds the action, making it more believable. The reader can follow the action without backtracking to figure out what’s happening to who, where and when.

stick figure storyboard sample of visual tools for writers

Storyboards can help writers with pacing. A quick sketch of the basics of each scene can show slow spots. Five consecutive scenes of two talking heads smoking cigarettes in coffee shops? Might be exactly what you’re after. Or it might be worth revisiting…

Storyboarding on Post-it notes is an effective way to play with your narrative sequence. Seeing your whole story in a single glance helps you build coherence. It’s wonderfully easy to explore options as you move scenes around. Doing this with pictures, rather than written notes, gives the process immediacy. You can see more of your story with one look and you can evaluate options faster.

For writers, storyboarding is a thinking-and-doing tool, not a work of art. Don’t stress about your artistic ability.

If you are interested in learning more about using visual tools please consider attending my Graphic Facilitation Workshop Saturday April 28, 2012, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Handmade in America offices in downtown Asheville.


Screen-writing class notes

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

On February 14, I attended the first class of Maryedith Burrell’s screen-writing course, as offered through the Great Smokies Writing Program. I recorded a half hour discourse on the history of the narrative in western civilization. It went at a breakneck pace and as full as the page is, I still missed some stuff. It was great fun and I learned a lot in the process.

Download a printable version of the graphic notes from the workshop. (1.2 MB)


Flatiron Writers Workshop: Done & dusted

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

On February 11, the Flatiron Writers and Papershine co-sponsored their first workshop: Creating Your Writing Life. Despite the snowy weather, twenty brave souls joined us at the Unitarian church in Asheville for the daylong workshop. The seminar focused on helping people develop the commitments and habits necessary to realize their writing goals. It was a wonderful and productive day.

I graphically recorded the whole day. It was great fun, because that was my main role, listening and drawing. Often I am facilitating or teaching as I do my graphics, so my attention is divided. The ‘artwork’ suffers. As a group, we had used visual processes to develop the outline, and that gave me a leg up as well; I had a plan for laying out the information before the event started.

Download a printable version of the graphic notes from the workshop. (2.3 MB)

Stay tuned for our next workshop!


My Writing Life

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

My writing life, in prepartion for next weekend’s workshop with the the Flatiron Writers.


Talking Rice

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

On line magazine Pology has just published a story of mine about harvesting rice in Korea many moons ago. Click the link for South Korea. Anyone familiar with Roundeye will know some of the tale. Check it out and browse the e-zine. It’s a nice treat for the vicarious traveler.


Tufte, Strunk, White

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

Edward Tufte visited Portland earlier this week and delivered a lecture on ‘Envisioning Information’ to a capacity crowd of roughly four hundred people. He spoke at length about data graphics, good presentations and how PowerPoint kills astronauts. His summary of the communication failures between NASA and Boeing during the Columbia disaster are particularly poignant today, as we are reassured by NASA that the Discovery, now docked at the International Space Station, is doing fine, despite similar problems with flying chunks of foam.
Towards the end of the day, Tufte offered some practical advice on giving presentations. While there was nothing especially new under that sun, I was pleased to hear him mention Strunk & White, the authors of The Elements of Style, the only book on writing worth reading. It’s a manifesto for clear communication. It’s also surprisingly funny.
Strunk, White and Tufte share a respect for their audiences that’s no longer in fashion. So much of today’s media holds its audience in obvious contempt. Advertisements, disc jockeys and news programs pander and insult. Movie theaters charge nine dollars for the pleasure of watching massive, jittery advertisments and music videos before the feature presentation. To their way of thinking, the audience will always be there, soda-swilling cattle in uncomfortable chairs. Odd then that the movie industry complains so frequently and loudly about their diminishing market share. Of course piracy is an issue; movie going has become so unpleasant and costly that people will risk federal prosecution to avoid the theater.
I believe that most great teachers and presenters have a great and profound respect for the audiences. Tufte said it clearly, “Audiences are precious.” Be grateful for their time and attention and engage them actively and vigorously. Always seek to elevate. Always be honest, even when you don’t have the slightest idea what the answer might be. Give respect and it will flow back to you. No matter the audience and no matter how expert I might think I am about the material I’m teaching, I always learn so much from the people I am teaching. To me, that is fundamental to respect: I am not here to give you my ‘wisdom'; we are here to share our ideas and learning.

Edward Tufte’s web site
Elements of Style