When in Doubt, Draw It Out

If you’re in the habit of watching the behind-the-scenes features of animated movies, TV shows, or special effects-laden movies like The Hobbit (I’m obsessed with those features), then you’ve probably seen the preproduction team discussing how they storyboarded the film/TV show or a visual effects sequence. The storyboards helped them plan each shot of the movie or show. Taking the time to storyboard also helped the team to gauge where problems might arise.

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Storyboarding is not just for animators. Many novelists and picture book writers use storyboarding or some variation of it as well. During my grad program, some of the faculty encouraged us students to use this technique to plan scenes in our novels or picture books.

Sometimes, when I’m stuck in the middle of a scene or having trouble transferring what I see in my mind to the page, I grab a pack of Post-it notes and a pencil. Starting with the first image that comes to mind, even if it’s vague, I work through the scene as if I’m planning a mini-movie.

Below is one of my attempts at storyboarding an action scene in a forest. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. These sketches make no sense. Maybe to you they seem like squiggly lines and cryptic phrases, rather than a tense action sequence. Yet when I started slapping notes on the board—even sketchy ones—the sequence order became clear. I already knew the inciting incident in the scene. I just needed to know what would happen next, and then after that, and after that, and so on. The good thing is, I don’t have to pretend to be Picasso as I storyboard.

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My storyboard and a closeup of one of the Post-its—not a pretty sight

How do you plan your scenes? If you have Scrivener, perhaps you use the corkboard to storyboard or outline. Or, maybe you get out the sketch pad and draw until the words come, or you use Pinterest to pin photos that inspire you. (Or Instagram, like Lyn Miller-Lachmann does with her graphic novel.) Perhaps there’s another way inspiration hits. Maybe a music playlist helps you set the scene. Or, a brisk walk or a run might be your way of working out issues. Nature is your canvas. You rearrange scenes based on what you see outside or how your body feels. Life is your storyboard.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed about a scene, drawing brings me back to a restful state. It also takes me back to childhood, when drawing was a form of problem solving or escaping from problems. Sadly, like many other things, I stopped doing it regularly as I grew older. I regret that now.

 Unicorn Imagination

But like a good friend, I can return to it when I need to work things out.

Sometimes a picture truly is worth a thousand words. If you need a storyboard template check this out:

storyboard

Tips for storyboarding a picture book (Uri Shulevitz): http://www.mightyartdemos.com/mightyartdemos-shulevitz.html
Tips for storyboard a video (GoAnimate): http://goanimate.com/video-maker-tips/what-is-a-storyboard-and-why-do-you-need-one/
Tips for storyboarding a novel (eHow): http://www.ehow.com/how_2179092_storyboard-tween-book.html

Storyboard template from raydillonrandom.blogspot.com. Futurama storyboard mage from laboiteverte.fr. Sketches by L. Marie.