Know Where You’re Going: The Value of Story Maps
By Mike Marano
So you’ve pitched your story, your editor likes the idea and you’ve jotted down your plot outline – now what? It’s time to be aware of the geography of your narrative so that you can pace it out properly and effectively use all of the pages at your disposal. First and foremost, consider the number of pages you have to work with. You don’t want to come in under your allotted page amount or to go over it, as doing so would necessitate having to pad the story or compress it respectively. Neither is a desirable situation to be sure.
For my story in Holmes Inc #1 – Peril in Paris! – the page count was initially eight, and then it was changed to seven, but I was able to make the necessary adjustments in my story map, which is significantly easier than if I’d just started writing a script outright and had to go back and make edits.
My story from Issue #2 – Old Wounds – was plotted as a seven pager from the outset, and the pace is more uniform, all thanks to the magic of story maps. I can’t underscore enough how important it is to have a step where you an tweak your narrative at such a high level to accommodate the medium. Need a double page spread? Want a certain panel to be at the bottom of a specific page? Story maps are perfect for this kind of planning.
So how does one create a story map?
Sketching thumbnails of each page is something I’ve been doing intuitively since I started creating comics, but the story map comes before even that – though you still start by drawing boxes to represent every page of your story. Next, give each page a sentence/title that encapsulates what happens in the narrative on that page. I think of it like this: if every page stood on its own as a mini-episode, what would the title of that episode be? Be descriptive, but also have fun with this part.
Do this for every page, from beginning to end, and you’ll find that you naturally pace out the events of your story.
It’s not only a fun exercise, but it provides incredibly effective focus for the beats of your story. In the boxes that represent your pages you should next separate and lay out events and character moments in a more granular fashion. I’ll typically split every page into thirds unless I’m feeling fancy and want to sub-divide them even more for specific plot developments. When you’ve finished this step, congratulations, you’ve successfully mapped your story onto your pages!
Using your story map as a blueprint for what (and where) events transpire on each page, you can then consider panel layout and sketch more detailed thumbnails. You’ll be referring to these later when writing your script. Decisions like how many panels to use on a page, breaking panel borders and other artistic choices can be made at this point and you’ll have an easier time of it thanks to the leg-work you’ve already invested in creating the story map.
So what’s the value of a story map? The same value as ANY good map – to know exactly where you’re going and how to get there. Now get mapping and join us back here soon for the next tutorial!