This is something I took away from both storyboarding and animating. I’ve heard other writers use the same method and I find it to be much, much better than your standard “outlining” pass. The basic idea is “tent-poles.” With this approach, I outline only a few specific moments in the story that I find important, but leave the in-between unresolved. For example, in Star Wars:
- Luke wants to help the rebels fight the Empire and learn more about his father from an old master he meets, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
- Luke is devastated after his family is killed and he decides to go with Obi-Wan to Alderaan to help out Princess Leia and become a Jedi like his father.
- Luke gets trapped by the Death Star, having chartered a ship from Han Solo and his sidekick, after they discover Alderaan’s been destroyed!
This allows me to discover the story alongside the characters for a more natural flow instead of just connecting the dots between plot points. Figuring out and filling in the story with the “how” and “why” is the good part … the juicy stuff!
In the end, I’ll have a dozen or so story beats that I use as targets to hit. Steven Spielberg always said that when he creates a film he creates moments, and the story is about connecting those moments. Animation is the same way, too. An animator draws the key poses he knows have to be in the scene — the story telling poses. Then he’ll work straight ahead, filling in the motion using those key drawings as guides. Often times they’ll change slightly, which is another point: Don’t fall in love with your ideas!
I find myself hitting impassable road blocks when I’m stubborn about some thing that I decided has to happen. The characters will tell me what must be included in the story, or how that moment I was aiming for must be altered. It’s important to be adaptable and learn to let go. Sometimes, I won’t even find what the story really is until the end. The best thing that could ever happen to a writer, is to be surprised right up until they unexpectedly write down the words “The End”.