Writing stories

Plotting a Backstory: Secret of the Box

When I was gathering together ideas for a unit on actual story writing using pictures, I approached science fiction and mystery author Ron Goulart for ideas. The Secret of the Box Unit is my version of the Murder whodunnit, of which Ron is a master. Essentially, the hero of the story is confronted with a secret that needs revealing, like a mystery in a box.

I guess the most famous whodunnits in comics are the stories of Tintin by Herge.

  1. Draw the main character. Outline his personality. Draw some friends. Draw some enemies.
  2. Draw a box. Draw what’s inside of the box. Why is it so important? (Valuable? Part of something that won’t work otherwise? Does it have sentimental value?)
  3. How does the character find out what’s in the box without opening it? Why can’t it be opened? Is there a key? Where is it now? The writer has to know EVERYTHING, even if the characters don’t. Answer these questions by DRAWING THE ANSWER.
  4. Draw some possible clues that would help find out what’s in the box. Draw some possible clues that will help find the key.
  5. Finally, draw a map from clue to clue until your character finds the object. Think of obstacles that might stop your character, but of course, the character manages to find the clues, and eventually discovers what’s inside.

I put together some worksheets for this unit. Not the greatest, but gives a visual roadmap I guess for bigger and better worksheets. It’s a matter of having a worksheet meant specifically for drawing a story, rather than writing it.

As I am writing this blog, I am watching a zombie movie called “Rezort”. The heroes of the story have just learned the real secret of the zombie island after going through a series of adventures. I am saying this because it doesn’t necessarily have to be an actual box to make this type of story work. The box an be an island, a scientific experiment, and yes, even a murder victim whose biggest secret is the manner of death. The key can be an actual key, or a witness, or a passage through an underground tunnel leading to the zombie storage area.


Your basic drawing boxes to set up the backstory
A series of pictures to frame the clues
A general idea of how to set up a story map using pictures