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Three Steps to a Story Board

This post is from Sharon Olsen, author of Living Your Legacy. I asked her to explain the process of Story Boarding which is found in Chapter 2 of the book. I understood the concept, but needed some direction to help me take on what felt like a daunting task. Pull up a mug of something warm, some blank paper, and a pencil with an eraser. It’s time to get down to the business of life!

I wish I had known this sooner. That it’s okay to find yourself smack dab in the day to day minutiae of life. That it’s not the end all.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have panicked when passion and vision subsided. And, maybe – at least momentarily – I might have taken it in stride when what began as a grand adventure turned into a monotonous litany of deadlines and checklists.

Ah, but these seasons! If we’re not careful, they can rob our hope. Or worse, we seek comfort, inevitably settling into complacency.

After fumbling my way through too-many-of-these seasons to count, I finally learned to take a cue from all the best authors, screenwriters and playwrights: Zoom out on the lens of life. Like, a lot.

And there’s this nifty little tool to help you do just that. It’s called a storyboard.

Simple or complex, the storyboard gives the gift of perspective. It renews hope. It sparks aspiration because, panning out to get a fuller view of the plot line with all its twists and turns, can help us identify patterns in the narrative.

Once we can trace those patterns, we can identify themes and actually see the way our values play out in real life. It shows us where we’ve been, where we presently stand, and guides us in visualizing where we want the story to go.

Here’s the step by step process of filling in your own storyboard.

Step 1:

First, start with a timeline. It can be as simple as jotting down five to seven significant events from your life.

You can timeline your whole life, a phase, or a specific event in which you want insight. For instance, about a year ago, we needed visual clarity regarding our finances. I wrote the year, month and amount we were in debt. This created mental space to ask ourselves why we went into debt in the first place when we already agreed we value living debt-free.  

What motivated “the characters” (eh-hem, that would be us) to compromise? Was it an emergency we failed to plan sufficiently for? Was it an indulgence?

This allowed us the grace to fill in what happened and the decisions made that resulted in debt.

Something motivates characters in stories to act as they do. Understanding this concept and applying it to your own life will help you be more intentional and decisive in the future. There is a sense of empowerment and freedom when you make decisions based on values and purpose. But, it’s too easy to get swept along with life’s currents, making haphazard choices if we don’t have a mission or a goal.

Writing significant life events lets you see where you’re congruent with your values and where you need to reevaluate and realign. They also reveal turning points – or, plot twists.

Feel free to be as general or as detailed – possibly filling in vignettes – as you want. The idea is to get a snapshot at this point.

Step 2:

Transfer the significant events from your timeline to sticky notes or 3×5 cards or you can even sketch squares and simply fill them in. Make sure these are in chronological order.

Take for example the classic storyboard, the comic book. Square by square, through text and illustration, we see a story unfold.

Doing this with our lives gives us 30,000-foot visual clarity. I’ve seen this done on poster board, a whiteboard and a sketch book. While writing my book, Living Your Legacy, we lived in a house in which my office had one entire wall that was floor to ceiling windows. I used dry-erase markers to make boxes on the windows and then filled in my storyboard for my chapters on sticky notes stuck to the windows.

Looking over your storyboard at this point, ask yourself questions like:

  • What happened to help shape who I am and how I see the world today?
  • Are my current belief systems serving me and helping me get closer to my goals?
  • What is(are) the theme(s) that show up? And do I want the same theme(s) to keep playing, or do I want to revise future scenes?
  • What’s working? What’s not working?
  • What values are highlighted and am I being true to my values?
  • Where do I need to be more courageous? Committed? Bold? Take more risks?
  • What successes do I need to celebrate?

Evaluating the storyline up to this point reveals the rhythm, cadence and sequence weaved throughout the narrative. It sparks creativity and ideas for future “scenes.”  

I love the concept of the professional writer’s storyboard applied to our personal lives, businesses and most important relationships. It’s a simple and tangible way to visually capture the key scenes from our past and free up mental bandwidth to visualize the future.

“A storyboard gives us a visual of where we’re headed. It enables us to move toward the vision, evaluating the milestones along the way so we can course correct, edit, and revise.” – Living Your Legacy

After evaluating lessons learned and our present circumstances, we created a game plan to get out of debt. We decided what to stop doing and recalibrated our spending habits. We revised the script to align with our values regarding financial freedom.  

Step 3:

Fill in the text (and sketches, if you like) for future scenes on additional squares, 3×5 cards, or sticky notes.

What are some words, (derived from your values), to describe the scenes you want to live on the “big screen” of your life? I use guiding words such as Honor, Valor, Impact, Meaning, Ambition, and Vision.

One of the benefits of this is that everyone can be on the same page. Imagine you’re part of a screenplay with a thousand people on the crew. Every role, from the makeup artist to the props crew to the director is working toward the same vision based on the same storyboard. Anyone on your team can refer to the storyboard and know their role in the overall storyline.

In our family, we use ‘inside’ idioms to spur one another on toward our vision. “Remember who you are,” “Be an energy-giver, not an energy-taker,” and “Be a blessing,” are a few ways we remind each other to remain true to the story – the legacy – we’re living.

What might it look like to share your personal storyboard with a spouse, coach or friend who will support you in your goals? What if you created a storyboard for your team, (aka, family, business, community group or any other team)?

If my life were an actual movie, I want it to be the sort of movie that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren want to watch. I want it to be meaningful and to make an impact that blesses future generations. Honor is a key theme I want to write – live – into the making of this legacy.

Sure, life ebbs and flows. We all experience seasons in which it feels like purpose is elusive. It doesn’t feel like we’re making progress toward our goals. But, knowing we’re in the midst of a story larger than what we can physically see in front of us… it takes faith… and vision.

The storyboard fuels passion, hope, faith… and vision, for when we’re in those “scenes” that don’t exactly feel… epic. It allows you to stay present. It’s a tool which communicates, you can be peaceful. This story is larger than what you see. Keep moving forward. The story can be revised along the way. Your Creator is at work in you, through you and on your behalf.

 Sharon Olson is a speaker, visionary, and unshakable optimist. She is the author of the Amazon Bestseller, Living Your Legacy. A relentless Possibilitarian, she’s on a mission to help leaders maximize their purpose and potential. She and her husband, LeRoy, of twenty-five years currently live in the Inland Northwest. They have three grown sons and a daughter. When not writing or coaching, you can find her reading, organizing, globetrotting, or engrossed in interesting in-person conversation with family or friends.  

2 thoughts on “Three Steps to a Story Board”

    • Yes, I will be using this exercise to help you create your own vision board — her whole book is fabulous like this! If you sign up for the class, you get a copy of Living Your Legacy.

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