This post originally appeared here in October 2010:
While watching TV today, I saw a clip of Hitchcock's North by Northwest, the clip most often associated with that movie: Cary Grant's character on a lonely country road, a crop duster's propellor spinning toward him, and Grant's dive into the dust. The entire scene is several minutes long, but in the several times I've watched it, I've never seen a wasted shot or felt it ran a moment too long.
Funny, the things that start neurons sparking in the brain. I've been revising the latest WIP, and wondering how to get the most out of the chapters I'm working on -- those all-important first chapters (not that the rest don't matter, but no one will read them if the first few don't hook an editor). Seeing that movie clip reminded me of how Hitchcock used a storyboard to plot out each step of the scene, from the first appearance of the plane, to its approach, to every change of expression in close-ups of Grant's face.
Other writers have told me they see their books and stories as movies in their heads. So do I. We agree that translating those vibrant visual scenes into words that best express what we saw is the tricky part. Many writers use Hitchcock's storyboarding method to outline their novels. I've tried to do that, but my efforts fell flat. So I rely on my fingertips, keyboard keys, and the monitor screen to get me into the zone, draw out the first draft, and fuel subsequent revisions.
I've never tried using a storyboard method for revision. It might be useful to try. It might be even more helpful to go back to my movies, where my scenes and characters first revealed their magic, and watch each scene again, listen to each line of dialogue, re-experience the emotions. Once the who, what, when, and where are set in motion on the page in an order that satisfies me, what else can I see on the screen of my imagination?