Why every writer needs a storyboard (and how to use it)

Ever since I began writing my novel, I have made some great friends – helping friends, with no flesh but a heaps of potential. This sounds like a riddle and I guess there could be many answers to it.

Two weeks ago, I introduced you to one of the many best friends a writer has – metaphors. Today, I want to talk about another crucial element to us, storytellers – the storyboard.

Before I show you mine and explain how I use it, I want to make sure we are on the same page.

So what is a storyboard?

Let’s go back to the basics. My dictionary states the following: “a storyboard represents a series of panels or sketches outlining the scene sequence and major changes of action or plot in a production to be shot on film or video.” “Primarily used in film production and advertising, this is a visual tool that many writers can benefit from.

In essence? A storyboard is the skeleton of your novel. It is every major event/scene/sequence your story is composed of. It is a magical tool that helps you visualise your entire work on one single page.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

This is a relevant question here and although I won’t reflect on the question here, it is worth mentioning this: you can be both or either and still benefit from a storyboard. Plotters, what better way to plan out your story in excruciating detail (if you wish to do so)? Pantsers, you don’t have to know where you’re heading. You can slowly build your storyboard and fill it in, move things around as you go. You never know, it may as well put some of your thoughts in order.

I am an undeniable pantser and the following storyboard has changed a few times but that’s okay. That’s what post-it notes were invented for, right?

How to use your storyboard?

Here is a glimpse of mine. Everything has been blurred because, well, I don’t want you to know every twist and turn I have managed to weave into my novel. But here is how it works.

  1. The post-it notes

    Every post-it note represents a major scene, an event that, in one way or another, changes the story. This is my choice. You can compose your board of chapters only, or detail it a lot more than I have. You can even make a board for every chapter and have a post-it note for every scene. This would be great to filter out useless scenes but I have not yet found the motivation to comb through my chapters.

  2. The colour-coding

    I am writing a multiple POV novel revolving around 5 major characters and composed of 3 story arcs. To make things a little easier for my already muffled brain, I had to work in colours. Every colour represents one story arc. Within each story arc, there is more than one character (on average, 2-3 characters) but I have chosen to orchestrate my board around story arcs, not characters (otherwise it would look like a fluorescent rainbow).
    So that makes it GREEN for my nomad Saharan crew, PINK for my French crew and YELLOW for my Casablanca crew. You can probably notice those are based on big setting changes as that is a big theme in my novel: multiculturalism.

  3. The chronology

    To you, there probably isn’t much of a chronology on my board. To me, it’s crystal clear. That’s because I’m the only one working on this and as long as it works for you, it works for your story. I have chosen to work on this from left to right, following an imaginary chronological line but also the way my story unfolds.
    Attention! The story on this board may be chronological, it does NOT follow a chapter order. You can choose to do so but in my case, I needed to realise how and in what order I should reveal certain information. I could easily build another board which would be focused on the chapter order but that is for future me to worry about.

  4. The extra bit of colour-coding

    you may have noticed the strokes of orange and light blue. Those are extra bits of information to help me pinpoint absolutely crucial events. I have divided them as such: ORANGE for secret information to reveal as part of one or more twists, BLUE for the turning points in the novel, the “big moments”, the foundations.

That’s it my blogging friends. That’s how I use my storyboard and I hope it may be of some use to you.

I’d love to hear from you too. Do you use a storyboard? Find it helpful? Any tips you might have for me? I’m open to suggestions, as always.


Thanks for reading.
Hop on my Facebook and Twitter caravans.


24 responses to “Why every writer needs a storyboard (and how to use it)

  1. Wow, I love the post-it notes––they look so pretty and organized! I have never used a storyboard before, but I do sometimes use outlines. I also use Scrivener and I’m a big fan of the “corkboard” feature. :)


    • Thanks for your comment, Brigid! I’ll admit I do kinda find them pretty too!
      I tried Scrivener but I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Maybe I should try again but for now, Word seems to do the job! Do you find it easy to work with?


  2. Very insightful and organised, Elissaveta, I’m impressed! I carry it all in my head – no wonder it wants to explode sometimes :D
    On a different note, would you be interested to do a guest post about the backstory of your novel for my series ‘The Story Behind The Story’? No pressure, but I’d love to learn more about your novel, how you decided to write it, settings, characters… Anything interesting and inspiring you choose to share :)


    • Oh! I would absolutely love to contribute – I could talk about the inspiration behind my novel for-ever.
      And thank you for the compliment. I’m the least organised person but I’m working on it. It helps drastically (with the writing as well as in life).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a total pantser – basically I had an idea and three characters which has now grown into six books. I tried writing a plan once and it changed almost immediately, as if the characters were all laughing and saying ‘no, I don’t think so’. So perhaps a storyboard composed of sticky notes might be a better option for me – god knows I have enough of them festooned around my computer at the moment!


    • Ha ha, I can definitely see that happening! Have you done a lot of re-rewriting? (I’ve stopped counting how many versions I’ve had…)
      You should try it if you’ve got a Sunday afternoon to spare. It works even if it’s just to get you back on track when you’ve lost the plot a little… :) (although for 6 books I can’t imagine the level of organisation you will need to keep up!!!!!)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Strangely the books have remained as they were when they first came to me. New scenes have appeared, characters taking on more significance than I’d previously thought, but the main thread of the story has stayed the same. I’d written the first four books before I published the first one, so that’s made it easier. Though there is a lot to keep track of, yes, hence all the sticky notes I have!


  4. Looks good. I’m using a 3×5 card process and have had some difficulty visually with putting the arc in its order now. Perhaps I should add some color since switching to 230+ Post-It notes at this point might make me crazy. Thanks for sharing!


  5. This is cognate with the way I try to organise my life – mind maps, flow charts, post its, tables, Gantt charts, and even something that resembles a story map. Thank you for another interesting post, and for introducing me to the notion of pantser. I get mocked for not being one and I admire anyone who is.

    You’re juggling incredible complexity and I’m fascinated by your strategy.


  6. I hesitiate to say every author should use a storyboard, but I do think every author should at least experiment with one before dscarding the idea. I found planning tools can be very useful, whether it be index card software, outlining or storyboarding. Some writers do work best flying by the seat of their pants, but most need structure to help them get a handle on their stories, especially novels, and storyboards provide a nonlinear structure that outlines don’t provide for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re absolutely right. I exaggerated the title for dramatic purposes.
      Funnily enough, I flew by the seat of my pants for over 2 years until it occurred to me that a storyboard might help me and thankfully, it did. Thanks for your comment!!


  7. I’ve tried, really I’ve tried but it never works. All I have now is a single sheet with the characters names and relationships on it. I may change but so far I’m better off with a growing manuscript that I read countless times and move around as I go. Good luck with yours Ellie.


  8. For my first draft I did a story board with post-its and a rough outline. But then I got Scrivener and now I just do it all in there. Also, as I’m going along revising, I am writing out an index card for each chapter. There I write the main points, chapter title, chapter number, and word count. The last two I write in in pencil because they may change order at the end. I’ve already switched a few chapters around. I also know that word count will change because some chapters are really bare.

    Another thing I do is a notebook – I like something physical. For the first draft, it was where I did initial character sketches and outlines, and as I was writing, I”d write what I needed to write the next day. I really liked that so now that I’m revising, I’m also keeping a notebook. At the back I have all the characters names, including their last names and ages, because while first names are easy to keep track of the last names and ages don’t come up that often. The rest of the notebook is notes on each chapter – mostly before I get it to a satisfying (for now) completion.

    As you can imagine, I have stacks of notebooks on my workspace – a journal, current WIP notebook, blog planner, several sketchbooks, and an idea notebook.

    The strange thing is that I still don’t have everything as organized or figured out as other writers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whoa. You must have a bookshelf filled with mostly notebooks and files! Index cards? And I thought I was organised.
      Thanks for your comment, Ula. It’s fascinating to peek inside a writer’s “office”.


  9. Pingback: Crafting your elevator pitch: trials & errors. | A Writer's Caravan·

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