Based on a short story by Mónica Muñoz, I drew a storyboard which tries to illustrate it. Because my drawing skills are quite limited, because the story includes elements that are quite difficult to represent, I tried to depict some abstract elements to its symbolic representation, building a visual narrative slightly different from the original text.
The sequence of the frames doesn’t match the narrative sequence of the written text. The written story introduce abstract elements like childhood memories and personal feelings and impressions of the character that are difficult to depict literally.
My drawing uses what Barthes would call “visual rhetoric” figures to identify key elements of the story and to represent certain feelings of the main character: for example, the necklace she puts in frame number 6 is the same she wears when she was younger in the black and white picture: although it stills remains open to interpretation, because one could think that the girl on the old picture is her mother, and she inherited the necklace.
Other element that help to support the narrative is the painting of the boat hung on the wall, which was there for a long time as we can see in the picture of the three children. This element is connected with desires, wishes and memories.
Here are some examples of how some fellow students and friends read the storyboard, before I revealed the title of the storyboard:
“I think grandma grew up by the sea. She is only in the city cause the family is there, but when they don’t come to visit even on her birthday she decides to forget about them and go back to the sea where she is happy”
“Its mainly about the old lady’s memories. The boat in the picture plays a pivotal role as do the photos. Maybe she had her honeymoon on such a yacht (and her husband is no longer with her) so she goes to the seaside to look and remember. Maybe he died in the war on a navy ship … there is enough ambiguity in the last 3 frames to let the viewer interpret as he likes”
“The drawings are clear and nicely detailed. I like to think that she found her way into her picture and sailed off into the sunset….”
“I think the photos in the pictures are of her and her family that spent many happy hours in the house that she still lives in. I think her children did well after graduating in their chosen field and moved away possibly abroad and are unable to get to see her on her birthday so she decides to put on her glad rags and spend the day by the sea, just so that she’s a little closer to them, returning home to reminisce. The tears are tears of joy when she remembers how far they have all come.”
“I see a lonely old lady whose husband has died and children have grown up and left, her whole life has been devoted to her family but they don’t return the favour. The picture on the wall, a constant presence as her children grew up, represents a place she has never been and always aspired to. On receiving a birthday card she decides to reach for that goal and takes herself to the seaside, her tears being both joy at being there and sorrow that she is alone to enjoy it.”
“Mrs. Polly is sitting in her living room as always. Surrounded of memories of former times. Family photos from her husband and their children. A picture on the wall reminds she on pleasure trips with her family. Today it’s her birthday and she receives a birthday card from their children. Now the recognizes that they wouldn’t come to her birthday. So she decides to make a trip to a wishfulness place. She wears her best chain on and takes the bus to the beach. Here she stands with all her memories in her heart. In tears she has to admit, that she is very alone. Just one time she want to have a get together with their children. That’s her greatest heart’s desire!”
“It is a story of a mother whose child/ children and possibly grandchildren have immigrated to a place extremely far away making extremely difficult to visit. She is a widow and that the lost of contact with close family isolates her from a family network. She is happy that they are making a better life but this comes with a price, a happy birthday in a card and only left in memories.”
Captain Gonzales recalls a life well lived. She used to skipper ocean – bound yachts. Her long haul days ended when she had children. The children are grown now and doing well. She ihas grown old, but still longs to feel the salt wind in her hair.
“A life well-lived through experiences not possessions. She leaves her sea-boots by the door, as her sea-going days are over. Travelling to the beach to watch the boats and reflect on her life and memories. They are tears of happiness for time spent and people and places remembered, with few regrets.”
“Maria is an old lady who lives with a black cat on a small flat on the outskirts of the city. Her house is full of memories. Hanging on the wall is a picture with a seascape where Maria and her family used to spend their summer vacation. On her nightstand there is a photo taken during her wedding and another with her three children. There are also two pictures on her cabinet: in one the children appear on the day of her university graduation and in the other Maria with her husband. Maria has received a postcard for her eightieth birthday. In front of the mirror she dresses and looks at the photos of her relatives. After putting on his coat, she picks up her bag and cane and leaves the house. Get to the bus stop. She goes at the marina, where she went with her family during the summer holidays. [..] Maria now returns to live many memories: nostalgia prevails and tears wet her face.”
The original story
Mrs. Xosefa wanted to see the sea. It was a longing that she kept secret from her youth. The small, fragile woman had never traveled beyond the countryside, always eager to nurture the animals and support the family.
Mrs. Xosefa had never known the world through books: although she had learned to read, school and studies were a thing of men. The woman’s place was the house, the farm, the place. And the brain had no other distraction than the fireplace, the farmland, and the seeds.
Mrs. Xosefa had never made a decision: when she was a child, the father commanded; As an adult, her husband did; And as an old person, they were her sons who resolved.
On her 80th birthday, Mrs. Xosefa dressed up in white and adorned herself with the pearl necklace. She slipped on her Sunday shoes and hung the bag she used on the big occasions. Then she closed the windows, locked the door, went to the bus stop and waited for bus.
Thus, traveling westward, it was as Mrs. Xosefa reached the coast. As soon as she arrived, she stood motionless, staring at the horizon, breathing in the salty, refreshing breeze that made her feel so good. She closed her eyes and saw the x-ray of her life pass by: the hard work in the field, on the farm, in the house; Her weak figure in front of the father, the husband, the children; Her attitude complex and ignorant to life. And then she began to cry. Burning and repairing tears dug furrows in her face. For the first time she felt free. She has never been before.
After reading the original we can easily appreciate two things:
On the one hand, that my storyboard is a kind of translation: from the written story, I had to adapt it to use the available resources of the visual narrative. My drawing skills were an important limitation, a constraint that we should also take into account. Due to the reduced number of frames, I had to make some decisions, choosing the elements that I thought resume the key elements of the story, organizing the sequence of the frame, from the first descriptive elements focused on the personality of the character, until the last frames that support the action of the story towards the final and conclusive frame, that we can considerate the climax of the story.
For example, there are elements that are confusing, which didn’t seem to work as I thought: the work boots which I considered a representation of her work on the farmland where interpreted by some viewers as a representation of her strong connection with the sea. Something similar happened with the picture of the boat, which was read more literally than symbolically. However, some other elements seem to have coded a cultural meaning, that influences the way on which the viewer will decipher the scene: Cat for solitude, photographs for memories, tears for sorrow, etc..
On the other hand, although some viewers reach similar conclusions there are great differences on the details, especially concerning the descriptive part of the story. For example, Andrew and Emma are definitely close to the mood of the story: that mixture of joy and sorrow that Mrs.Xosefa feels when she fulfils a desire nurture within her during so long time.
After revealing the title of the story, few people change the whole story their initially proposed, although they introduce small nuances in the final frame, where the title seems to put the accent, and that eventually supports the emotional charge of the story.
I’d like to include here some interesting responses of the viewers:
“I don’t believe the title would change my response to the storyboard having said that the final images may do. I must admit my very first initial reaction was Titanic…..”I can still smell the fresh paint….”. The leading elements to my secondary response is that there is the elements of movement (the boat) in image 1, 2 and 9 (the bus) there is a very strong focus on family in 1,3,4 (family photos) and 5 (the birthday card) but in all of the images she is isolated and alone and looking either back at memories or looking into the distance. The human experience of lost and/or distance push my buttons, the thought of seeing for the first time never came into my mind but this is a personal response. I really don’t think the title alone would swing my response at all”
“Not necessarily, perhaps she saw the sea with fresh eyes, a different perspective.”
“It might have been a dream of hers and her husband’s to visit the sea together and they never got the chance. Now she gets to make the journey on her own – maybe her children paid for her trip and she is overwhelmed with memories of what might have been.”
“Sadness that it took so long to realise her dream, and for leaving her home, and joy that she gets to do it.”
“Not at all! For me the ship picture is the thread tying the story together and the only way to explain that was that it had some special significance”