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The Picture Map

Writing Exercise: Turning the Story Map Into a Picture Map


Because of my concern that the structure chart and story map would be misinterpreted as a linear development process, I used my artistic skills (not) to create a picture map. The picture map overlays the structure chart and uses the ideas from the story map to create images.

The picture map can be created to look like a scene or it can be a conglomeration of pictures that individually represent ideas. If you have my artistic talents, you may prefer to use clip art or pictures from magazines. By creating the pictures and moving them around on the structure chart/story map or in relationship to a timeline, it becomes clearer how the ideas for different elements can be exchanged to tell the story in a different, more dynamic order.

WRITING EXERCISE: Below is a picture chart that I created and below that is a story to accompany the chart. Read the story and note how it is drawn. Rewrite the story using the basic details, but tell it in a way you find more dynamic with your own twists. If you would like, in the comments you may post a brief synopsis of your story to share with others.


Picture Map for Ray's Story



The protagonist, we’ll call Ray, has made a decision about his life today—about his marriage, his wife, his career, his future. His decision is one of four things: either he’s leaving his wife, he’s quitting his job, he’s doing both, or he’s decided not to do either (his thinking about those things would be backstory. The hook is his decision. If I’m saving that decision to reveal later, the hook is his letting it be known to someone that he’d come to a decision, but not what that decision is.) Because we are not writing ideas here, but using images to show concepts, I’ve started Ray in his everyday world. (I could have put a picture of Ray or a picture of his career or wife or chosen any number of ways to show he had made a choice about his life. I actually don’t have the hook represented in this picture map. The hook could place him in his everyday world, or it could be a place where he reveals the decision he’s made about his life.)

It’s a nice spring day, the sun is shining, flowers beds surround the house, soft white clouds float overhead. The swing on the tree indicates this is a family. Ray picks some flowers from the yard and takes them in to his wife (setting). Inside the house Ray finds his wife crying and learns she heard from her doctor that she has a rare form of cancer (conflict: external, his wife has cancer; internal: how does this impact his decision?) Ray is stunned to say the least (what’s at stake: his wife’s life). Ray begins to research about this rare disease and discovers information about a flower that is rumored to have healing properties, especially effective on this form of cancer. However, this flower only grows three weeks out of the year (sense of urgency, countdown) and is some distance away—across the water and on the other side of a mountain, and he could face some treacherous territory if he goes after it. Ray does not want his wife to die, regardless of the decision he’s made, and so he sets out on a quest for this flower (first plot point: he decides to put his previous decision on hold, and his goal is the flower; his decision about his life could have been the first plot point, depending on how the story is set up, and this a second one. Regardless we have spun the story into the Middle).

(Rising action) Ray must navigate a river that has sandbars and currents to get to the mountain, when his boat gets stuck (obstacle 1) he has no choice but swim to the mountain, holding his backpack with his equipment above his head (resolution). At the edge of the water he is confronted with snakes (obstacle 2), he fights against the snakes and just as we think he might lose the battle, he escapes into the woods (resolution), where he is finally safe, but lost (obstacle 3). In the woods, he is confronted by wolves (obstacle 4), which chase him until he manages to escape into some boulders, and up the steep mountain (resolution 3 and 4). There is a crevasse in the mountain which he tumbles into (obstacle 5), but fortunately he brought some rock-climbing gear in his backpack and is able to make his way out (resolution; we discuss “Taking It With You” on page 116). Relieved, Ray realizes he is near the top of the mountain and hopes that he will find the flower on just the other side. Then he sees it—a swift river and a waterfall between him and the top of the mountain (obstacle 6). He could go back and face all those obstacles again and attempt to come up the other side, or try to cross the river, which doesn’t appear too wide. Ray chooses to cross the river.

Ray discovers a tree that has fallen partway across the river and then some boulders that are positioned almost like giant stepping stones, if he can get from one to the next without falling into the swift current of the river, he’ll be okay (resolution). Step by step he makes it across the tree and jumps to the first boulder. At the second boulder he loses his footing and slips and winds up being held fast by his backpack (obstacle 7). He manages to get out of his backpack and onto the boulder, but loses his grip on the backpack, which filled with all of his supplies, goes over the waterfall (the climactic moment, things are pretty bad, but he’s survived) (Falling action). Ray easily makes it across the last two boulders. At last he is in the area where the flower is supposed to be, he can see a field filled with foliage and flowers and knows this is it, between him and flower is only a fence that he must climb over (metaphor for the last hurdle and confronting his earlier decision about his life). At last he gets to the flower. He carefully gathers the flowers and then realizes they are the same flowers that grow in his own yard. Now he realizes that maybe what he’s looking for in life has been there all along (revelation).

What we don’t see in my picture map is that he takes a boat home. Ray is now a changed man as he delivers the flowers to his wife. A lab turns the flowers into a drug. We then imagine Ray’s wife in a hospital, receiving the drug intravenously, the last detail being Ray sitting beside his wife, holding her hand. (tag).




I have put nearly all of the events into my picture that I would have put on the story map, however, now I can look at my picture and see that there are at least a dozen ways I can tell this story. The story could be told in flashbacks or out of order or in any order. I could start with the hook being this disheveled man picking a flower, then realizing it grows in his own yard and his reliving the story with the ending being what he now chooses to do. I could start the story on the sandbar or with the wolves or in the crevasse. I could choose for the story to be more of a character study and instead of climbing the mountain, Ray takes the long way around on the water and reflects on his life. If you choose for the resolution to be back in his normal home, then you might start Ray at the flower or beginning the journey. The hook could be his finding the flower and that he thinks going down the mountain is a faster way home—his goal becomes getting the flower to his wife and it’s going home he faces all the obstacles and his decision about his life evolves. If you write the wolves as the climactic moment, then the crevasse and the waterfall become the lesser obstacles and should be sooner. (Ray’s Story Map can be found on page 175.)

By knowing that you have included the key storytelling elements in your story, you can then organize your story any way that suits your purposes. And it doesn’t have to be told in a linear chronology.

How you tell the story depends on what is important to you, how you will write it, what your theme and dramatic question are, and where the story is coming from within you. This is what makes storytelling unique to the storyteller. If you told this story your way, it would most certainly be different from how I would tell it.

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