Do you have a ton of ideas for future characters, plots, settings, and themes but aren’t sure how to corral all of your brilliant schemes and concepts into a single novel? The answer may be to storyboard your novel.
There are many ways to turn your thoughts into a cohesive story, but one of my favorites is to create a graphic sequence of events. This method appeals to the visual thinkers among us.
Did you know that as a creative writer you’re more likely to be a visual thinker as well? That’s because you can see your words as pictures and imagine your story visually. You can see the characters you create, the expressions on your characters’ faces, the way your characters move during conversations, and how they interact in their environment. You can also see the world that you’ve created down to the tiniest detail. I bet you can even identify the tree leaves in the background of any given scene.
While you may not be able to translate what you see in visual form, you can certainly use words to paint a precise picture in your reader’s mind.
And you can also create a rudimentary sketch to help you analyze the flow of your story. But don’t worry. Your sketches need not be museum-quality visual masterpieces. Simple doodles can be effective novel creation aids. If you can physically write, you can also physically sketch stick figures to storyboard your novel.
In this post, we’ll explain what a storyboard is, why you should do it, and how to create a usable one for your purposes. Let’s get started.
What is a Storyboard?
A storyboard is a series of images or sketches used to plan out a story. Film directors often implement the same process to convey their ideas to cinematographers. However, many writers use storyboarding as part of their novel creation process. Instead of visually communicating an idea to someone else, a writer’s storyboard gives the writer powerful visual cues that they can use to stay on track with their storytelling.
A storyboard is a cohesive series of sketched scenes along with a brief description of what’s happening in the scene.
The Benefits of Storyboarding
What are the benefits of storyboarding over other novel creation methods, such as the traditional outline? Let’s discuss why you should consider implementing this method.
Plot Out Your Novel
A storyboard is like a map of your novel. It will document the beginning, middle, and ending of your novel. You can use this map to stay on course throughout your writing process.
Organize Your Story
Storyboarding allows you to visually organize scenes. You can use it to carefully consider how to tell your story, whether chronologically, non-linear, or with the help of flashbacks, scene switches, or POV changes.
Speed Up Your Writing Time
If you have a visual map, i.e. storyboard, you always know where you're headed, no matter where you are in the writing process. Many writers keep their storyboards in a highly visible location in their workspace. This allows them to quickly check at a glance.
After creating your storyboard, you’ll be able to immediately spot areas for improvement. Perhaps you need more content in one area. Perhaps in another area, you have too much content but not enough action. Your visual outline shows you the big picture so that you can work on the finer details.
Your story’s pacing should be dynamic. In other words, it should change frequently, alternating between fast moments and slow builds. This type of pacing keeps the reader hooked because the novel doesn’t feel like it’s dragging slowly or speeding through without a moment to reflect. When you storyboard, you can label specific areas as “slow pace” or “fast pace” to help you see if the pace needs to be tweaked.
When you storyboard, you can rearrange the different parts of your story before you start writing. You will likely discover that one piece of your narrative can have a bigger impact on the reader if they find out sooner (or sometimes later) in the story. Moving pieces of your story around can also improve the flow of your narrative. This is why many authors use sticky notes or index cards that can easily be shifted around at a whim.
Visualize Your Story
Creating a storyboard will allow you to see your novel like a moving film. You can use your storyboard to identify areas in your story that feel dull or redundant or out of place with the rest of the story. Storyboarding can add another layer to your plotting process. It gives you the ability to see your story from a different perspective.
But What If You're a Pantser?
Ostensibly, there are two types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters, as the name suggests, like to plan ahead. A lot of writers prefer to first outline a story before writing it. However, there are many other writers out there who prefer to write stories “by the seat of their pants.” In other words, they like to be surprised and see where the story unfolds.
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, storyboarding can work for you. That’s because storyboarding can, but doesn’t have to, take place before you start writing. If you’re a pantser, you can storyboard after you’ve written your first draft. This way, you’re still creating a story by the seat of your pants, without structuring it or taking the fun out of the adventure. But, when you’re in editing mode, you can use storyboarding to clarify, improve pacing, and create a more cohesive story.
Storyboarding can happen before or during the writing process. Don’t think of it as another thing that’s preventing you from writing. Instead, think of storyboarding as a way to improve your writing by injecting it with clarity and direction.
What If You Can't Draw?
As discussed above, no one’s expecting you to be the next Leonardo da Vinci with your sketches. It honestly doesn’t matter if you can draw perfect representations of your ideas. All that matters is that you can scribble out your ideas visually in a way that you, and you alone, can understand. (Plus, you can always get rid of the evidence later!)
How to Create a Storyboard
Now let’s discuss how to create a useful storyboard.
Gather Your Supplies
What medium will you use to storyboard your novel? Some ideas include:
Comic strip templates printed on copy paper
You can also create a digital storyboard using your iPad or phone to quickly draw images that you can either keep digitally or print. If you prefer to make your storyboard digital, you can use a service like Boords or Scrivener’s Corkboard to keep your entire process in the cloud.
Make a List of Key Moments
To start your storyboard, select 10 pivotal moments in your novel. These moments will act as anchors. To understand the big picture of your novel, choose the emotional scenes that move your story forward.
Think in Terms of Three
Need help figuring out which 10 elements to choose? Here’s a quick and easy 3 x 3 method that works for many authors:
Think of your story as three parts, or acts. Act 1 is the setup of the story and makes up roughly 25% of your novel. Select three images for Act 1:
Normal life for the protagonist
The inciting incident that changes the protagonist’s world
What causes the protagonist to act
Act 2 is the main action in your story, also known as the confrontation. It’s the main meat of your novel, taking up 50% of its content. Select three images for Act 2:
The start of a journey
The disaster that changes everything/ forces the protagonist to dig deep
Act 3 is the resolution and is the final 25% of the novel. In this act, document:
The final battle
The new normal
Yes, your novel likely has more than 9 scenes. The outline above is simply a good start to your storyboard.
After you have a basic outline, add more scenes. The average novel storyboard has 60 scenes in total: 25% (or 15 scenes) at the beginning, 25% (or 15 scenes) at the end, and 50% (or 30 scenes) in the middle. It’s not a precise science, and don’t feel overwhelmed if you don’t want to draw that many scenes. Instead, use this as a guide and do what works best for you.
Try using different colors when documenting subplots. Color coding your storyboard can help to digest your plot at a glance and see any opportunities to improve your storytelling.
Also consider adding a short, one-sentence description below each image to explain what’s happening in each scene. We’re only humans and it’s easy to forget an important plot point even if you’re the one who drew it.
One of the easiest ways to tackle a novel is to start with a storyboard. As you’ve learned above, storyboarding doesn’t require amazing graphic art skills. If you can doodle, you can do this! Use the amazing tips above to storyboard your novel, from drawing to collaging and more.