From vignettes to book

I’m pulling this post from July’12 back to the top of the blog because it’s such useful and inspiring information, and it was mentioned in today’s Nat’l Assoc of Memoir Writer’s telesummit. If you missed that, you’ll be able to download an audio file soon from


Guest post by Kathleen Pooler

As I sit in the midst of my collection of ten notebooks filled with three years’ worth of vignettes, a trifold cardboard poster board, colored post-it notes, a notebook of “The Places I’ve Lived Exercise” and a diagram of my “Tree of Me” exercise (all explained in more depth in this post), I ask myself:

How in the world am I going to pull all this together into a story that will resonate  –  a story worth telling?

How can I find the heart of my story in this pile of paper and words?

Here’s my basic plan and my best suggestions to others:

  1. First and foremost answer this question: What is my purpose in writing this book?
  2. From this purpose, define my target audience and main message.
  3. Be able to state this message in a 90-second elevator pitch.
  4. Write a two-three page synopsis of my story, keeping the narrative arc in mind.
  5.  Plot my story out on a storyboard or in a detailed plot outline.

Events leading up to using a storyboard:

Before I could even think of storyboarding, I had to write the vignettes. After three years of collecting stories, I am ready to shape them into a narrative arc. A memoir needs to read like a novel and I need to use the tools of fiction to bring my story alive:

Opening hook
Scenic details
Character Development
Point of View
Conflict, Suspense and Action

The following resources have provided a framework for my stories:

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey
Linda Joy Myers’ Narrative Arc/Turning Points
The 22 Rules of Storytelling According to Pixar by Emma Coats

If you do an internet search on “story board”, you’ll find many resources. Here are some resources that helped me decide what process to use.

W-Method by Mary Carroll-Moore
Story Boarding by Teresa Reasor
6 Writing Outline Templates  at Duolit
Three-Scene Storyboarding by Bill Law at The Career-Leaning Cafe

What I have ended up doing is a mixture of storyboarding, outlining turning points and The Hero’s Journey.

What is a Story Board?

A story board is a way of brainstorming your story line (plot) so you can visualize a narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end. Within this arc will be scenes and turning points, forward movement of the story, plot points, climax, movement toward change and resolution.

How do I develop my own story board?

Each person needs to find their own way through the process.

Since I’m a visual, hands-on person, I need to see a graphic image of what my story looks like. I started with a tri-fold cardboard poster, colored post-it notes and felt markers. I read through all my stories and wrote each chapter and the year on the yellow post-it stars. On the orange post-it stars, I wrote the focus of each Act. I’ve already rearranged it several times.


My story is divided  into three acts:

Act I:     Opening Scene- The way things were…Once upon a time…
Act II:     Big Scene or Messy MiddleWhen things might change…then this happened….
Act III:    Following SceneHow things became different-until this happened and I finally…

My goal is to finish my first draft by January, 2013. Then the real work begins – rewriting and editing until my story is polished and ready for launch into the world.

Anything as important as my story is worth the effort it will take to write it right. The heart of my story is beginning to reveal itself to me in ever-deepening ways.

The story is always with me.  All I have to do is show up, keep rearranging the stars and keep writing until it’s right. Sometimes I have to step aside and let it reveal itself to me. The story will lead me to its heart.

I’m ready!

How about you? What methods do you use to find the heart of your story? I’d love to hear what has worked for you and will be happy to answer any questions. Please leave comments below.

 KathyPoolerKathleen Pooler is a writer and a recently retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.  She blogs weekly on her website, Memoir Writer’s Journey: and can be found on Twitter @kathypooler and on LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook as Kathleen Pooler.

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Categories: flash basics, guest posts, reference tools

17 Comments on “From vignettes to book”

  1. July 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    Kathy, you are making appearances everywhere. Bravo!! I am so happy to see your post. You are going about your storyboarding in a much more organized way than I did. How fun to see the book emerging! You are truly an inspiration.

    • July 30, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      From Kathy: Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment,Libbye! What I’m hoping for is that now that I have my framework established, I can be more free-flowing with my story. I think we all need to find our own way through the process. Whatever process you used for your awesome memoir- Root,Little Pig,or Die- certainly seemed to work. I’d say we inspire one another :-)

  2. Pavlina Gatikova
    July 30, 2012 at 5:05 am #

    Dear Kathy,

    Great post! I have seen such a tremendous growth in you and your writing and in your concrete steps you take daily to complete your memoir. I have no doubt that it will be a success. In a sense, you have already succeeded. What an inspiration you are!

  3. July 30, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    I admire your organization, Kathy — and how you’re putting yourself out there. I have no doubt your book will be ready for the world when you say it is!

  4. July 30, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment,Libbye! What I’m hoping for is that now that I have my framework established, I can be more free-flowing with my story. I think we all need to find our own way through the process. Whatever process you used for your awesome memoir- Root,Little Pig,or Die- certainly seemed to work. I’d say we inspire one another :-)

  5. July 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Hi Pavlina,

    How nice to see you here! I appreciate your validating and kind comments. I think of you whenever I think of the “poetic flow” I’d like to achieve in my words as I have seen you do. I hope your writing is going well. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. July 31, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Hi Debbie, Thanks so much. I wish I felt even more organized for the huge task ahead! The storyboard has been a great tool to get me jumpstarted. Day by day. it’s a journey. So happy you stopped by and commented!

  7. July 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    Kathy, I can’t keep up with you! You are really making a name for yourself in the world of memoir writing. This post is once again chock full of good information for those of us coming up behind you. It is fun to see how you’re planning to pull everything together and from these efforts have a book emerge. Can’t wait until it happens!

    • August 2, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      LOL, Sherrey! I have a hard time catching up with myself these days,too. Thanks so much for following along and cheering me on. This is an exciting phase for me as I feel my story coming together. I can’t wait till it happens either :-)

  8. August 3, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    This is a brilliant and generous post, Kathleen. And I agree with the other comments. You are striving toward the memoir challenge like an Olympian athlete. Your energy inspires and your insight informs. Great work!


    • August 4, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      Thanks, Jerry for your generous feedback. It seems everything we do does eventually add up to something in time. Your “Places I’ve Lived Exercise” has been a fantastic resource as I move along in this “Olympic” journey. Your support and cheers all along the way have truly made a positive difference. All greatly appreciated!

  9. August 3, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Powerful process you have going here Kathy. Finding that elusive story thread for our own enlightenment is hard enough. Finding a way to make it compelling for others is another order of magnitude. You go girlfriend!

    • August 4, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Yes, Sharon. There is still so much more to achieve. I’m proud to call you one of my most valued mentors, along with Jerry and Linda Joy. Your “Digging Deep course and “Tree of Me” exercise have guided me to this point and have helped me pave the way. Thank you so much for your ongoing encouragement and guidance!


  1. Your memoir vs. your memory | FlashMemoirs - January 4, 2013

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