As a writer of information books, I work with words and pictures. Sometimes, when I’m planning a book, I even plot the pictures before the words. I find that thinking in pictures can be liberating, and I believe all kinds of people can benefit from a more visual approach to their writing, especially when they’re feeling trapped in a web of words.
I recently worked with a group of social workers who were writing case studies. Some of them had stalled on their introduction. Others had run aground in a morass of detail. It was clear they all needed a fresh approach.
I suggested they could storyboard their case studies. This meant approaching each study rather like a director plans a film: creating an opening shot to set the scene, a sequence of acts in logical order, and a strong conclusion. I equipped the group with large sheets of paper and handfuls of coloured pens, and set them to work in pairs on a shared case study. Each pair worked together to select key points and to decide on the best order in which to present them. Then they went on to sketch out a series of scenes that explained their ‘story’ to the group. Somehow, thinking visually enabled the participants to master their material and freed them from anxiety over choosing the right words. Even those who claimed to be completely non-visual found they could recognise when a sequence worked, and everyone agreed that this approach to creating a synopsis had made the whole process of planning much easier and more manageable than before.
The storyboarding approach can be used successfully for planning essays and dissertations, either in a workshop or on your own. To work out the order of your points, you can also draw pictures – or write down the points – on a set of cards, then move the cards around until you find the best and most logical sequence.
Storyboarding may not turn you into the next Scorsese, but it could help you through the essay-planning blues.