Storyboarding is the practice in filmmaking of creating a visual collection of images or drawings in order to prepare the filmmaker for the scenes needed to complete the film. However, storyboarding has been adapted for widespread use in other media, including theater, software development, and advertising.
The use of storyboarding in film makes the practice widely known to screenwriters. However, breaking down and outlining scenes of a story is helpful to all fiction writers. Novelists find it useful at some point to prepare an outline of their finished novel. Memoirists in particular may find storyboarding valuable. The tendency for writers of memoir is to include everything in their memoir- because it all happened!- but the story of a person’s life is still, primarily, a story meant to entertain readers.
If you are struggling with a novel, a memoir, or any large fiction-writing project, storyboarding can work to your advantage. Information on storyboarding is readily available on the Internet and in books on screenwriting, filmmaking, and animation. But you only need to know the basics to begin storyboarding your novel, memoir, or screenplay.
You Will Need:
A large, blank space (a wall, bulletin board, whiteboard, or sketchbook)
Moveable note cards (index cards, Post-Its, or any small pieces of notepaper)
Divide the empty space into four rows. Each row will be an Act.
Place the primary scenes of the story. Each note card is one scene.
On each note card, write a scene, dialogue, or description; or even draw an image. You may only have a vague idea of what the scene will involve. Perhaps the “Argument” or the “Shipwreck.” That’s okay. Later, you can provide more detail on the card, or just write the complete scene. For now, just get down the idea.
The amount of scenes will depend on the length of your project. Chances are, if you already have an idea for a novel, you will know these major scenes and turning points of the story. If not, filling in these gaps with new ideas is exactly what storyboarding is for.
The Primary Scenes
This act includes scenes for the Opening Image, the setup of the Main Characters, the Theme of the story, the introduction of the Conflict
Act Two (first half)
This act includes scenes for the Subplot and setup of Minor Characters. Scenes in the first half of Act One further explain the Theme. This act ends with the Midpoint of the novel, often a point with a turn of events, twist, or surprise.
Act Two (second half)
This is where the story explores each point of the Conflict, often branching into other Minor Conflicts. The second half of Act Two includes scenes of great Tension, and finally, the Climax of the story, often the Worst Moment or a moment in which all seems lost.
Scenes included in this Act are the Conflict Resolutions, scenes showing the Changes in Characters, and the Final Image.
This is the fun part! Stare at the storyboard and daydream. Switch scenes around. Add new ones. Fill in the gaps. Take out what doesn’t work. Try new ideas without having to spend hours writing entire pages of the story.
Storyboarding is a useful tool, but remember that it doesn’t take the place of actually writing your novel, memoir, or screenplay. Eventually, you’ll have to sit down and write the thing! But whenever you get stuck, blocked, or just frustrated, seeing a visual representation of the project in its entirety will provide the encouragement and motivation to continue writing until the project is finished.
For more detail on story structure and storyboarding, I highly recommend Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and Robert McKee’s Story, both screenwriting books useful to all writers.