How to Storyboard a Novel: A Comprehensive Guide for Authors

Posted on May 30, 2023

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Written by P.J McNulty

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In writing, storyboarding is a practical method for planning narratives. Initially used in filmmaking, it’s now also applied to novel writing.

Storyboarding involves visually organizing a story’s sequence of events, character development, settings, and key plot points. This can be done using cards or digital tools. The technique offers an overview of the entire novel, making it easier for writers to spot connections, gaps, and pacing issues. It’s a valuable tool for both outlining and revising a novel.

This article provides a comprehensive guide to storyboarding a novel, covering its basics, available tools, and the process of creating a storyboard. It’s useful for both established and aspiring writers.

How To Storyboard A Novel

Understanding the Basics of Storyboarding

Before we delve into the process of storyboarding, let’s define some key terms and concepts that will come up along the way:

Scene: A scene is a unit of story that takes place at a specific location and time. It often involves a particular set of characters and unfolds a certain event or interaction. Think of scenes as building blocks that compose the larger structure of your novel.

Sequence: A sequence is a series of connected scenes that together convey a larger action or idea in the story. Sequences help to create a meaningful flow between individual scenes.

Act: An act is a larger division in a novel, typically encompassing multiple sequences. Acts provide a broad structure to the narrative, often adhering to the classic storytelling structure of beginning, middle, and end.

Plot Point: Plot points are key events that propel the narrative forward or result in significant changes. They’re often moments of decision for characters that impact the direction of the story.

Storyboarding differs from other planning methods for novel writing in several ways:

  • Unlike traditional outlining, storyboarding allows you to visualize the structure of your novel.
  • Storyboarding is more flexible, letting you easily move scenes, sequences, or acts around.
  • It provides a tangible way to see the progression and pacing of your plot.
  • It can make it easier to spot plot holes or inconsistencies in your narrative.
  • It’s a great way to track character development and arcs throughout the story.
  • You can use color-coding or symbols to indicate various elements like tension, conflict, or themes.
  • It’s adaptable to different writing styles and processes; you can make it as detailed or as high-level as you like.
  • Storyboarding plays a different role in various genres of novels. Here are a few examples:

Mystery/Thriller: Storyboarding can help keep track of clues, red herrings, and the progression of suspense.

Romance: It can assist in visualizing the development of the relationship between characters and the rise and fall of romantic tension.

Fantasy/Science Fiction: Storyboarding can be useful for tracking world-building elements and the unfolding of complex plots.

Historical Fiction: It can help structure the integration of historical events with the fictional narrative.

Literary Fiction: Storyboarding can aid in tracing character development, thematic exploration, and narrative structure.

Young Adult: It can assist in visualizing the protagonist’s growth and the progression of the plot.

Tools and Materials for Storyboarding

Storyboarding can be done using a variety ofphysical and digital tools:

  1. Index Cards: These are a classic choice for storyboarding. Each card represents a scene or a plot point, and you can easily rearrange them as you develop your story. The physicality of index cards can make the storyboarding process feel more tangible and interactive.
  2. Whiteboards: Whiteboards offer a large surface to map out your story. They’re great for brainstorming and can be easily edited. Using different colored markers can also help you denote different elements or themes in your story.
  3. Corkboards: Similar to whiteboards, corkboards provide a large visual area for your storyboard. The advantage of a corkboard is that you can pin your index cards, notes, or images, and easily rearrange them.
  4. Digital Tools: There are many digital tools available for storyboarding, such as Scrivener, Trello, or specialized storyboarding software. These tools offer features like easy editing, the ability to add detailed notes, and the convenience of having your storyboard available on multiple devices.

Choosing the right tool for your storyboard depends on several factors. Your personal preferences play a significant role—do you prefer the tactile experience of physical tools, or the convenience and flexibility of digital ones? Consider the complexity of your novel as well. A more complex narrative with multiple plotlines and characters might be easier to manage with a digital tool that can accommodate a large amount of information and offer features for sorting and categorizing.

Another factor to consider is your working environment. If you have a dedicated writing space where you can spread out a physical storyboard, then whiteboards, corkboards, or index cards might be suitable. However, if you often write on the go, or don’t have much physical space, a digital tool might be more practical.

Finally, cost can also be a consideration. While whiteboards, corkboards, and index cards are generally inexpensive, some digital tools require a subscription or purchase. However, there are also free or low-cost digital options available.

Ultimately, the best tool for storyboarding is the one that fits comfortably into your writing process and aids in visualizing and organizing your story effectively. It may take some trial and error to find the right fit, but once you do, it can greatly enhance your writing process.

Tips and Best Practices for Storyboarding

While storyboarding can streamline the writing process, it’s not immune to challenges. Writer’s block, for instance, can still occur. However, the visual nature of a storyboard can help you overcome it. When you’re stuck, try focusing on a different scene or exploring a subplot. Seeing the broader picture can also help you identify new connections and ideas.

The most important thing to remember about storyboarding is that it’s a flexible tool. Don’t feel constrained by your initial storyboard. Your characters might evolve, new plot twists might emerge, or some scenes might not work as planned. It’s okay—and even expected—to make changes to your storyboard as your story develops.

Here are some additional techniques to maintain coherence and pacing in your storyboard:

  • Use color-coding or symbols to track different elements (characters, themes, tension, etc.)
  • Make sure eachscene has a purpose and drives the narrative forward.
  • Pay attention to the balance between action scenes and slower-paced, introspective scenes.
  • Ensure that each sequence builds up to a climax and resolves in a way that pushes the narrative into the next sequence.
  • Keep an eye on the development and resolution of your main plot and subplots across the storyboard.
  • Another useful strategy is to use organization tools within your storyboard, such as color-coding or symbols. This can help you quickly identify key elements, like a character’s presence, an increase in tension, or a thematic note. Using such strategies can make your storyboard not only an organizational tool but also a rich canvas that reflects the complexity and depth of your novel.

Case Study: How to storyboard a novel

Let’s walk through a sample storyboard for a hypothetical novel. Our premise is: “A young magician must find the lost artifact to restore magic in her dying city.”

  1. We start by brainstorming ideas around this premise: characters, settings, key events, and themes. We decide on the main character, her mentor, the antagonist, and some secondary characters. We identify the city as the primary setting and decide on a couple of sub-settings like the magician’s home, the mentor’s magical library, and the hidden location of the artifact.
  2. We outline the main plot: the discovery of the dying magic, the revelation of the lost artifact, the journey to find it, confrontations with the antagonist, and finally, the restoration of the magic. We also outline a subplot of the magician’s personal growth and her evolving relationship with her mentor.
  3. We divide our story into three acts. Act one involves the revelation of the dying magic and the lost artifact. Act two covers the journey and challenges in finding the artifact. Act three involves the final confrontation and the restoration of magic.
  4. We break down each act into sequences. For example, in act one, we have sequences like: introduction to the world and characters, discovery of the dying magic, revelation of the lost artifact, and preparation for the journey.
  5. We break down each sequence into scenes. In the “discovery of the dying magic” sequence, we might have scenes like: the magician’s failed magic spell, the consultation with the mentor, and the realization of the dying magic.
  6. We lay out these scenes on our storyboard, using different colors for different characters and themes. We add notes to each scene about character actions, dialogue snippets, and sensory details.
  7. As we review our storyboard, we realize that the pacing in act two seems slow. We decide to introduce a minor antagonist who tries to hinder the magician’s journey, adding more tension and excitement to this act.

The thought process behind each step in the storyboarding case study was:

  1. We started with a clear premise to guide our storyboarding.
  2. We defined our characters and settings, essential elements of our story.
  3. We outlined the main plot and subplot, providing a general direction for our story.
  4. We divided the story into acts to create a broad narrative structure.
  5. We broke down the acts into sequences, providing a manageable way to develop the narrative within each act.
  6. We broke down the sequences into individual scenes, the building blocks of our story.
  7. We laid out our scenes on the storyboard, providing a visual representation of our narrative.
  8. We reviewed and refined our storyboard, demonstrating the iterative nature of the storyboarding process.

Remember, this is just one way to storyboard a novel. Your process might look different based on your story, your writing style, and your personal preferences.

Storyboarding is a potent instrument in a writer’s toolkit, offering a structured, visual approach to crafting a novel.

It allows you to lay out your plot points, develop characters, map settings, and observe the pacing and progression of your narrative.

Storyboarding can provide clarity and direction, helping to streamline your writing process and foster creativity.

As with any tool, the key to effective storyboarding lies in understanding its purpose, mastering its application, and adapting it to suit your unique writing style.

By integrating storyboarding into your writing routine, you may discover new depths and dimensions in your narrative craft.

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