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.

Tags: ,

Categories: flash basics, guest posts, reference tools


  1. What is the Gist of Your Story? #4 « My Rite of Passage - February 14, 2013

    […] use some specific techniques along the way to hone in on my story and its main message: outlining, storyboarding, drawing mandalas, writing classes and exercises. The story I started out writing three years ago […]

  2. Go small to go big later | FlashMemoirs - February 2, 2014

    […] You may also like: From vignettes to book […]

  3. What to Do When the Book You’re Writing Throws You a Curve | Sherrey Meyer, Writer - May 6, 2014

    […] I then moved on to think about outlining or story boarding. I vaguely remembered a post of Kathy Pooler’s on Memoir Writer’s Journey where Kathy talked about story boarding. Unable to find it, I emailed Kathy and she sent me the link, which is here. […]

Share a comment or story

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: