Many of you have seen a storyboard for picture books. I thought I’d show you how I use one to revise a novel.

After I have a first draft with some sort of resolution, I write out the crucial elements of each chapter on a post-it. I do this by hand, since it forces me to slow down. I place the post-it notes in a grid on a big sheet of paper. The bigger the better because, like an artist who has to occasionally step back from her painting, I want to be able to see my novel from a distance. Now I can move the post-its around to see how order will affect the story.

In the case of this current novel-in-progress I used different colored notes to represent chapters of backstory. As you can see, the bright orange notes are rather sporadically placed, which tells me I need to question them. Could there be more backstory? Can they appear randomly, or in a clearly, defined and consistent pattern? Should there be more in the beginning and fewer at the end? Are they even necessary? The pink post-it represents a coming together of both the past and the present, which happens only once at the end. The dark yellow post-its are used because I ran out of the other.

After rearranging, I type up the chapter outlines and paste them into the grid. This gives a sense of permanence, even though I can change anything at anytime (and already have). I leave these storyboards hanging on my wall. I stare at them up close and from a distance. I move the post-its around and stare some more. I question every thing a thousand times.

Reading the novel on one piece of paper gives me a visual of the narrative flow. Now I can go back and to those fussy little details that create this big picture, making changes at whim—although this is really not whim at all, but an innate understanding of all that has been processed.I just have to pretend that it is all a whim.

You KNOW what you need to do; you just don’t know that you know—that’s what makes it fun. Try it. You might like it or it might make you crazy. Either way it can’t hurt, and at the very least you do something with your hands that can hang on a wall.