Writing as a drawing tool - yeah, that sounds weird. If you wanted to work with words, you’d be a writer, right?
This isn’t beautiful writing, though. This is organizational, planning writing that I’m going to talk about. Writing out a scene beat by beat. Outlining an entire story.
Full disclosure: I’m not a visual thinker.
If I’ve only met you a few times, I recall you in terms of a general impression and descriptive words. I have no picture of you in my head. It’s kind of crazy that I’ve gotten this far in this field without a mind’s eye, but using writing as an intermediary between intention and drawing has helped me a lot. If you’re a visual thinker you probably have your own methods of working, but either way I hope this is useful.
When I jump straight into boards or thumbnailing, it can be easy to get lost or forget the point of view I intended to convey in the scene.
When I work straight ahead - in either writing or boarding - it’s easy for me to go down the rabbit hole of possibilities. The farther down the rabbit hole you go, the harder it is to distinguish which choices are serving your goals, because this option is awesome — wait, and this one is, too. All of them are interesting and worth pursuing, and sometimes you forget where you were going in the first place.
While that exploratory work is useful, it can be deadly when I’m crunched for time.
Not LITERALLY deadly but deadly to productivity for sure.
So that’s where writing comes in.
When I write down where the scene should end up, what each character is doing, that’s one thing I don’t have to constantly grip in my mind. I’ve got it on my notepad, and my mind is freed up to explore within the constraints I’ve set down.
It all seems clear in my head, but it helps to write it down. Seeing the whole thing down on paper gives me a good look at where the disorganized areas are, so I can make adjustments. When I go straight ahead, it’s easy to tell myself I’ll figure it out when I get there… but this brings me to another point:
Writing is so, so much faster than drawing.
I’m not talking about flowery description. I’m talking about basic “she goes there, he feels this, because of this she does that,” etc. You can knock this out in five minutes. Even looking at the bare bones it’s easy to see where you’re losing the spirit of your pitch.
I’d much prefer to find out that I’ve lost the spirit of my pitch in five minutes than an hour later, after thumbnailing the whole thing.
Here’s another advantage: I can write down my plan, approve of it in sound mind, and have that paper with my plan for the scene or story written on it when I am:
- in the throes of self-doubt
- seduced by the compulsion to change everything at the last minute
- wondering whether this was ever a good idea and what is on TV (very subtly different from the throes of self-doubt)
If you’re not convinced, you’re not convinced.
If you are, here are some guidelines:
When you’re beating out a scene, think about WHY the audience is watching - like, what do they want to find out? Think about what they probably EXPECT will happen (so you can support that) and what ACTUALLY happens (so you can surprise them with it).
Write down everything that happens in the scene. Descriptive words help (because again, when you’re tired and can’t decide what the acting should be, you can look at your descriptive word and just do that).
- She looks up, confused.
- Above: wasp nest on a tree
- Wasps buzzing around it
- She is horrified
- She runs
For an outline - for your whole story - things are a little different. A general guideline I use for writing out an outline is that each of the following gets a paragraph:
- the concept of the story
- who the main character is
- what is her place in the world
- what goes wrong (inciting incident)
- how does she try to fix it (act 1 break)
- brief description of complications (act 2)
- what really goes wrong (midpoint)
- low point
- resolution (act 3)
It seems counter-intuitive that almost half of the outline would be setup for the story, and that the end would be just one paragraph, but this really does work and make sense when you need to see your whole story in just a few pages.
So next time you have a story idea, try writing some things down before you start sketching your favorite moments. Maybe you’ll like it.