Arree Chung is the author-illustrator of Ninja!, Ninja! Attack of the Clan, Ninja Claus!, and Out!. He’s also the founder and host of the Storyteller Academy, a class for aspiring writers and illustrators. He left his production scheduling job at Pixar to enroll at the Art Center College of Design. Arree graciously agreed to share his thoughts on a technique he teaches in his class. Thank you, Arree!
What is a story map?
A story map is kind of like mind mapping, where you write down all your ideas then group or organize them into a sequence, keeping in mind the logical flow from the beginning, to the inciting event, to the end. Here’s an example:
I can see how this would be valuable for longer works, but how does it help with picture books?
Story mapping is helpful in many ways. First, it can help you capture ideas and quickly connect them. Story mapping also helps you plot several variations of a story. The hardest part in making up a story are the endless possibilities so using a story mapping strategy helps you nail down the story more quickly.
What is your process?
I brainstorm ideas and write or draw them on post-its, or index cards, etc. Then I organize and group my thoughts by laying them out in front of me. I post or tape them on a wall so I can see them and move them around.
You can also map out your story in a notebook. You can make several story maps and compare them. Which one do you like better? How does re-ordering the events affect your story? If you have new ideas for your story, you can try plotting those ideas and trying them out.
How did story mapping help with your Ninja books?
Actually, story mapping is a new technique for me. I saw a blog post by Peter Brown where he documented how he uses story maps–I thought it was brilliant so I’ve adopted the technique. As mentioned, I usually work with index cards and post-it notes first and then move them around.
You’re working on a middle grade novel, did you story map for that and how was it different or the same as for a picture book?
For my middle grade novel, Ming Lee, I am doing a combination of journaling and story mapping. I find journaling in the morning to be a helpful writing process in collecting my thoughts and dumping out the stories that I have in me. Unfortunately, these stories and thoughts don’t always fit together in a cohesive story arc and that’s where story mapping comes in.
So Ninja Claus was recently released. Is there anything fun from creating that story that you can tell us about that might also be instructive?
The initial idea for Ninja Claus came to me when I was reading books at a local Barnes and Noble. One part of my creative practice is going to bookstores and doing “master studies” of books. You might be wondering what master studies are. Master studies are short answers to the following questions: Who are the characters? Where does it take place? What’s the problem in the story? How does the story escalate? How is the problem resolved?
Thank you, Arree!
Arree is reprsented by Rubin Pfeffer, and has illustrated books for other authors as well. For more information about Arree and all his books, visit his site: arree.com. For more about Arree’s free mini-course, please visit: http://www.storytelleracademy.com/free/
Additional resources about story mapping: