storyboarding your novel.

I don’t outline my novels, strictly speaking.  I make a list of narrative waypoints I need to hit, and sometimes that evolves into a chapter outline, but I don’t sit down and nail down the plot from start to finish.  The chapter outline is more of a loose guide, and whenever I do one, I end up deviating from it. They do help to keep things flowing, however, and they are a handy way to chart your narrative arc.

What I’ve started doing for those chapter outlines is storyboarding them.  I swiped the idea from Jo Knowles, who shared her method at a Q&A she did a few months back over in Vermont.  She draws a picture for each chapter containing the central visual of the chapter, and then jots brief chapter notes underneath.

I went to Printable Paper and downloaded their free letter-sized storyboard template, which gives me nine chapter panels per page.  (They have other sizes of storyboards as well, with fewer or more panels per page.)They’re just the right size for a quick sketch and few sentences about the chapter.  It’s helpful to have a visual index of your narrative, and it’s kind of fun to do.

Here’s the sheet I’m currently doing for the Urban Fantasy detective novel I’m working on:


Disregard my rather lacking drawing skills. I think about the main image that comes to mind for the chapter, and make a quick sketch of it in the picture panel. Then I write a two- or three-sentence chapter synopsis underneath. Each sheet has space for nine chapters, and you can lay them out next to each other and have the whole story in visual format, with chapter highlights. It’s easier for me to see where I need to swap things around or tighten them up, and how the whole narrative flows.  Mysteries are really dependent on good plot construction, and this is a big help for keeping the plot tight.

(Thanks for the brilliant idea, Jo. It’s a part of my writing toolbox now.)

13 thoughts on “storyboarding your novel.

  1. Jo says:

    Well, I can’t take credit for the brilliance. Carolyn Coman taught it to me! 🙂 I’m so glad it’s helpful! Love your drawings!


  2. Ali says:

    You know, I never thought of doing that. Now that you mention it, of course, it really could be useful.

    Also, your handwriting is far more legible than mine. I might be a bit jealous. 😉

    Great post.

  3. Come to think of it, I guess that’s good. Making a visual and a chapter sentence for every chapter to keep the flow, Thanks for the idea.

  4. Chang says:

    Wait, what kind of pen is that?!?!?!?!?!

    Ahem. Interesting. I’ve posted long ago about the ins and outs of outlining. SOmetimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I once wrote an actual outline for a story and it shocked me because it was 1) organized and b) coherent. I stuck pretty much to it.

    I usually write out a bunch of paragraphs or a single page outline just coordinating the thoughts in my head to ideas on paper. Makes things more sensible.

    I’ll give the storyboarding a try. It’s an interesting way to do it. My stuff tends to be enough of a conceptual mix of visual ideas and threads that I think it might be unwieldy. We shall see.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      That’s a Pilot V Razor Point. Yes, I do keep a few non-fountain pens around for scribbling notes and such. The fiber tip pens like the V Razor Point and the Sharpie Pen aren’t bad, actually…they’d be my preferred pens if I didn’t have fountain pens. The Pilot G3 with gel ink isn’t bad, either.

      • Chang says:

        Ah, yes. I have several of those. I use a lavender colored – shut up – one for editing. It’s brighter and less threatening that red. Makes me cry less at my own harshness in edits.

    • Tam says:


      …because it was 1) organized and b) coherent.

      Heh. Thanks for the chuckle this morning. 🙂

  5. Chang says:

    Oh, you want to fix the JB Knowles link. It goes to Which is funny but not the desired destination, I think.

  6. Aiwevanya says:

    *Blinks*That’s brilliant, no idea if it’ll actually work for me, but I guess there’s one way to find out.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Kristopher says:

    Does it include an Axe Cop?

  8. Huh! What a neat idea. I’ll have to try that with the story I’m revising.

  9. It just occurred to me that this technique might especially be suited for this particular novel. The short chapters lend themselves very well to it, and now that I look carefully, the pictures really are very well-chosen for those chapters.

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