Storyboarding: Tips, Tricks and Things I Wish I Knew

So you have an idea. It’s nagging at you, gnawing at you. You feel like you’ve just downed two pots of coffee and used Monster Energy as Visine drops. The words are there. The characters, the world.

The freight train is going at breakneck speed and you know there’s no stopping this monstrosity.

Until The Wall(TM) flies up in front of your face. It’s painful, it’s bloody and it is, quite arguably, the most annoying thing that could have happened.

Welcome to storyboarding my friends.

What is storyboarding?

Storyboarding is, in my opinion, one of the most important parts of ensuring that your brain-baby turns into a fully fleshed out story (novella, novelette, novel, novel-gantuan, etc.).

Think of it like you’re making a movie. You want there to be continuity, pacing, character growth. You want to ensure that you take your viewer on a journey from beginning to end with as little waffling as possible in between. You’d create a road map of sorts. One that outlines your pit stops, your shortcuts, your off-roading endeavors.

This is the importance of storyboarding.

There are different ways to storyboard

• Point A, Point B, Point C

• Milestone Checkpoints

• Chapter by Chapter

• Fly By The Seat Of Your Pants

Let’s start with:

Point A, Point B, Point C

This style of storyboarding is based on getting characters from one place to another. You start at point A: laying on your back in bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering why just opening your eyes is exhausting. You then get to point B, which is throwing your cinderblock legs over the edge of your bed. Which would then lead you to point C, where you waddle your happy backside to wherever your coffee pot is.

Fun fact, the person who lived in my house before me kept a Keurig in the bathroom. I’m not unconvinced it was a bad idea.

Of course, I’m grossly oversimplifying the way these points work, but I really don’t think you’d want to hear a Tolkein-esque retelling of how I make my coffee. (It really is an endeavor. I fight highway robbers and four legged demons every morning.)

I digress.

The points can be labeled more precisely. Point A, the beginning, Point B, the middle, Point C, the end. Point A-1 (is not Steak Sauce in this instance) can be an “inciting incident”, and then A-2 can be a “call to action” or “rising tension”, etc.

This kind of storyboarding seems to be the most common. You can find templates all across the internet. Evernote has a storyboarding template that fits this style perfectly. I, personally, have used and adore this template.

But you’re here, so you may as well check out my printable worksheet:

Pros and Cons

Provides a clear-cut formula to get from the beginning of the novel to the end.Can seem a bit too ‘rigid’ or formulaic if used in many books in the same series/by the same writer.
It makes it easier to conceptualize chapters and their contents, cutting down on “what-scene- should-I-do-next” panic.It can feel a bit rigid and leave the writer uncertain as to where to add a last-minute addition, or something forgotten in the midst of writing.
Milestone Checkpoints

Milestone Checkpoints aren’t entirely dissimilar from the Point A, Point B style. The primary difference lays in the structure. Instead of your story being contingent on points, its contingent on events.

I know, I know. That sounds like the same thing. Bear with me.

Milestones are very specific events required to move the story ahead, instead of traveling fluidly through the story like we do with points. Let me reframe the morning to make it make more sense.

Milestone 1: Wake up, pry eyes open, contemplate coffee. They smile because it’s the weekend before their vacation.
Milestone 2: Coffee is made, partially consumed. Half-drunk on coffee they dumbly open their email on the plane to their destination.
Milestone 3: The reader arrives at work with a lot to say to Brenda.
Milestone 4: It’s the next week and the reader is now fired and may or may not have an order of protection against them.

This kind of storyboarding is perfect for writers who operate on a more fluid timeline. Meaning, that it can jump several months or years in the narrative. This can also be particularly useful for writers who like to jump back and forth in time like outlandishly pretty time travelers (seriously, you look gorgeous today).

It also can be an incredibly useful tool for writers who are writing from the perspective of many different characters!

I have used this method before and found that it wasn’t for me, personally. Though, I have found more success in blending this approach with a not-yet-discussed technique (chapter by chapter).

I know it seems like a lot of work up front. That’s because it is. But later- you and your readers will be grateful for the prep-work. There’s nothing worse than reading and going cross-eyed in confusion. You can be a spectacular writer who can evoke feelings and sensations in their readers, but people aren’t going to want to slog their way through a book if they have no idea where they are or what’s happening. I’ve put down more than a few novels in my day because I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the story’s direction.

Alternatively, this style doesn’t have to be used just for storyboarding. Timelines can be incredibly beneficial in world building. They can also be used as supplemental information for character design.

Pros and Cons

Provides clear cut goals and steps required to move the plot along.It can sometimes be difficult to come up with connective scenes/information that tether the milestones together.
Allows for more fluid timelines, allowing the writer to keep track of what things happen and when.Can lead to a confusing narrative that might make the story hard to follow
Chapter by Chapter

Chapter by chapter storyboarding is exactly how it sounds. You plan the chapters from start to finish (what’s happening, what plot purpose it serves, etc.), until you have a scene by scene map of your manuscript.

Chapter by Chapter is the method I use consistently. While it is what works best for me, it might not be the best for you. I’m the sort of the person who would outline every second of my life in spreadsheets if I could, so a more rigid structure makes more sense to me and to my workflow.

I have had great success with marrying this storyboarding approach with the first two I mentioned. I do this by creating an overarching story map using Point A, Point B or Milestones and then break down those general points into their own chapters.

Pros and Cons

Lessons risk of “where do I go from here” based writer’s block.Could feel a bit rigid, and compromise feeling “in the moment”.
Gives an immediate frame work for the way the book will flow.Can make it difficult to add in important/ developmental scenes later without some restructuring.
Fly By The Seat Of Your Pants

Last but not least, we have the “Fly By The Seat Of Your Pants” approach. Or, as Nano would call it, “being a pantster.”

This involves allowing the muse to move you in one direction or the other. To allow the story to evolve organically.

Frankly, being someone who would micromanage every second of my life down to the millisecond, this notion terrifies me. However, there are likely people out there who have mastered the art of “having chill” who might find this a wonderful and fulfilling way of writing a book.

I’m not one of ‘em. And I may just stare in open wonder at you if you choose to do it.

Pros and Cons

It allows the writer to be in the flow of the story, allowing it to develop naturally and organically.It can make keeping track of important continuity points difficult.
The flow from one scene to another will feel very natural.The pacing can suffer – spending too long in one place, or not enough time.

In Conclusion

Telling a story is a lot harder than we think it is. We tend to look at it like a linear timeline when, in reality, there’s so much more that goes into it. It’s about making the world and its characters come alive – its about blending heart wrenching scenes and hair-raising suspense into a story worth reading (or, if audiobooks are more your style, hearing).

It makes sense that when time comes to put pen to paper, one can be completely overwhelmed. Storyboarding, regardless of the methods that work best for you, can help focus and direct you toward completing your project. It makes something monumental seem all the more approachable. Think about it – when you have a big project at work, home or school, does it not feel easier to tackle if you break it up into smaller, more attainable tasks or stepping stones?

There is, as with most things with writing, no right or wrong way to map out your story. You may find that you work best without storyboarding. You may find that one approach or blended approaches is what works for you. Or, you might find that something not even listed in this blog is the ticket to success. Regardless, it’s important to experiment – feel free to get playful. You never know what you might discover if you allow yourself to have some fun.

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