Visual Tools for Writers: Storyboards

April 11th, 2012

Storyboards are illustrations placed in sequence to help visualize a scene or narrative. Used for 80 years or more in film and animation studios, they have a lot to offer writers. While some storyboards for movies are regarded as works of art in and of themselves, drawing ability is not necessary to use storyboards. Stick figures are characters too.

I tend to use storyboards when I am writing complex actions. It’s easy to get caught up in the words and have the actions lose their gravity. By sketching the scene, even in the most basic form, I can track movements and consequences. It grounds the action, making it more believable. The reader can follow the action without backtracking to figure out what’s happening to who, where and when.

stick figure storyboard sample of visual tools for writers

Storyboards can help writers with pacing. A quick sketch of the basics of each scene can show slow spots. Five consecutive scenes of two talking heads smoking cigarettes in coffee shops? Might be exactly what you’re after. Or it might be worth revisiting…

Storyboarding on Post-it notes is an effective way to play with your narrative sequence. Seeing your whole story in a single glance helps you build coherence. It’s wonderfully easy to explore options as you move scenes around. Doing this with pictures, rather than written notes, gives the process immediacy. You can see more of your story with one look and you can evaluate options faster.

For writers, storyboarding is a thinking-and-doing tool, not a work of art. Don’t stress about your artistic ability.

If you are interested in learning more about using visual tools please consider attending my Graphic Facilitation Workshop Saturday April 28, 2012, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Handmade in America offices in downtown Asheville.

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