Monday, January 16, 2017

Using a Calendar to Storyboard Your Novel

by Molly Jo Realy @RealMoJo68

As a discovery writer, I sometimes feel as though I'm just a passenger on this train. I'm the transcriber of events observed. Or a screenwriter giving words to the movie playing in my head. Often, my characters will rebel, refuse, and rearrange the scenes I'm trying to create.

I don't know about your writing, but getting deeper into the story has caused some drama, and I don't just mean on the pages. NOLA has been started, restarted, edited, revamped, revised and solidified. And through the past three years of all that activity, it was getting hard to follow.

New Orleans happenings occur every day, and Josie is experiencing as much as she can. Characters, locations, food [oh! the food!], and of course drama, drama, drama.

Using index cards has been helpful, but I need something more. Certain events are set in stone, others are more fluid. NOLA takes place during October, and Halloween is a big occasion in the Big Easy. And let's be real: There's no bulletin board big enough to pin over a hundred index cards to that could fit on my. [Also, have y'all tried carrying a wall-size board in your backpack? Just sayin'.]

Calendaring NOLA helps me note the big events, emotions, and experiences that propel the story forward. This is where my month-at-a-glance planner page comes into play. I laid out the story from Josie's runaway red-eye, to the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival, to her first sip at Cafe du Monde, meeting new friends, reclaiming old habits, and more. There's a lot to remember about this journey. NOLA is timeless. That is, events don't happen on specific dates. So whether October 3rd is a Monday or a Thursday is insignificant. A few dot/stickers to cover the dates, and I have a full month's layout.
  • The side notes allow me to list characters, locations, foods (for the NOLA Companion Cookbook), and other items I need to know.
  • Face/emoticon stickers let me track emotions: Is a particular moment happy, sad, or exciting?
  • Different colored pens highlight themes: locations, events, dramatic scenes.
  • What's for dinner? Stickers indicate new eating experiences. Coffee stickers? Please. Do I really need to explain these? [whisper: Cafe du Monde.]
  • Calendaring keeps it real: Does my story flow, drag, or skip around? [Note to self: Using a pencil helps until you know for sure. #experienceshows.]

Storyboarding NOLA is also a great at-a-glance review that gives forward movement by quickly answering questions:When was a character introduced?
  • When was the last time it rained in New Orleans?
  • What was the last big drama?
  • Are too many events happening too closely together?

Of course, any calendaring system will do, but I find the month-at-a-glance layout really works for me.

Now it’s your turn: How do you keep track of your storyline?

With some sweet tea and responsible scrapbooking,

~Molly Jo


Molly Jo is a writer, editor, social media ninja, and producer of the weekly Firsts in Fiction podcast. She has been featured in children’s magazines, on blogs and devotional websites, and her short stories have earned her awards and scholarships from nationally acclaimed writing programs. She is the founder of New Inklings Press and author of The Unemployment Cookbook: Ideas for Feeding Families One Meal at a Timeand other books available through her website and on Amazon.

Her current work in progress, NOLA, is a location mystery set in New Orleans and is scheduled for publication in late 2016.

You can find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and her blog, Frankly, My Dear . . .


  1. I use a spreadsheet, with background color by POV. That way it works like your month calendar but I have a bit more room 😁 I find it really interesting to see how we all do these things slightly differently. I like your idea.

    1. Thank you. I've not used a spreadsheet before. I'll look into it.

  2. I also use a color-coded spreadsheet. I like Excel because I can expand the cells to fit what I need to record. The option to color-code makes it easy to find exactly what I’m looking for.

    Thanks for your post.

    1. I like Excel. Never thought to use the spreadsheet for this. I like tangible paper. I'll look into it, thanks.

  3. I use a desk calendar and write the scene for each day on it. This gives me my timeline as well as a visual. And I use Scrivener to write in and each scene has the timeline in the index. I can also look at my scenes on the cork board, but once I have twenty scenes, I can't see all of it at one time. :=)

    1. Those are good trackers. Thanks for the ideas.

  4. Thank you for the new ideas, I chart the plot and timeline on very large pieces of paper.

    1. I use index cards, and had drawn my own calendar sheet at first. Too many scribbles. I love using premade templates and stickers.

  5. Thanks, Molly Jo. I'd not thought of this and like the idea. Up to now, my storyboard has been in my head, but I don't have that many chapters yet.

    1. Hi Bruce! I kept the first few chapters in my head too, until I couldn't remember which day I was writing and I needed certain things to happen on certain days. Then I finally put it on cards, then paper, then the calendar. It worked. And every time I look at it, I'm inspired.

  6. I love this idea so much better than a spread sheet! Thanks for sharing.