Storyboard Your Novel | A Road Map To The Climax

by Marylee MacDonald in For Beginning Writers

In Hollywood a storyboard helps directors plan their projects. Storyboards provide a quick and easy way to visualize the ups and downs of the plot.

Writers working on scripts use storyboards to make sure the “beats” (key story developments) fall where they should. Fiction writers can use a storyboard to imagine where a story needs to speed up, slow down, or be trimmed.

Disney Animators Started The Storyboard Trend

I first learned about storyboarding from Ward Kimball, one of Walt Disney’s early team of animators.

storyboard - disney, walt disney, walt

Walt Disney and Ward Kimball, an animator who was one of the original Disney “Old Men,” shared a love of trains, as well as a love of storytelling. Animators like Kimball used storyboards to communicate with others on their team.
Image from Pixabay via DayronV

Ward was the lead animator for Dumbo, Snow White, and many other studio favorites. I met him when I went down to his house in Southern California to do an article on toy trains for Sunset.

While at Ward’s house I had the pleasure of seeing his storyboards. Take a look at this creative genius, and see how he and other animators planned a Disney feature film.

Note that each scene gets mapped out before it’s shot.

The instructions on the storyboard include whether the camera will do a close-up. The above example even has dialogue. That’s because Kimball wrote and directed this 1969 short–“It’s Tough To Be A Bird.”

If you’d like to read this article when you have time to concentrate, I’ve put together a pdf with it, and other articles about plot. Feel free to download FIND AND FIX PLOT PROBLEMS

A Storyboard Is Like Candyland

When you write fiction, you need a road map to help your players (aka readers) get from Point A to Point B, much like that kids’ game, Candyland. If you think in pictures, the way Kimball did, the storyboard technique could help you create a “rough cut” of your novel.

Here’s more about storyboards and how Disney Studios used them.

What I particularly like about this video is the discussion of emotion.

Storyboarding is a great way to begin to assemble the pictures of the important moments in your book. Those important moments are about emotional change.

Map Out Your Novel In Scenes

The key point in all of this is that your novel–like a storyboard–will be composed of scenes. Something has to happen in those scenes. Tweetie-bird has to dip his paw into the fish bowl. Popeye has to swallow his can of spinach. The Prince has to kneel and try to fit Cinderella’s slipper onto the feet of the stepsisters.

If nothing happens in your pictures, then nothing is happening in the novel either. That’s a danger.

If you GO HERE you can discover tons of storyboards.
Print out your favorite and map the first two chapters of your novel. Use stick figures. Make notes or use dialogue snippets to show the conflict points.

If you can visualize the action, you’ll know where to make adjustments (meaning trim the beginning and end).

storyboard and Chekhov

Follow Chekhov’s advice and trim the beginning and the end. A storyboard can help you adjust the pacing.

My favorite Chekhov quote is this:

My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.–Anton Chekhov



  • Marylee MacDonald

    Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, BODY LANGUAGE, and THE BIG BOOK OF SMALL PRESSES AND INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, a Wishing Shelf Book Award, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.

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