Storyboard Outlining for Your Novel

I finally finished my storyboard! A week ago, I talked about making a physical outline for my novel and how confusing things had gotten without it.

Well, the dining room table is now cleared off and ready for eating on again. My mess of outlining my novel is gone and I definitely learned some things along the way that I wanted to share with you all.

Basically, a storyboard, or physical outline as I call it, is a bird’s eye view of your novel. You can look above all the details and see the big picture of how your story will progress.

How do I know if I really need to make a storyboard?

Of course, after I went through making my own storyboard, I’m now a firm believer. I knew since the beginning of NaNoWriMo this year that I was going to need to create a storyboard because my plot was getting a little out of hand.  If your novel is getting away from you like mine was, then you can definitely benefit from a storyboard. When I first started writing this novel in July, I had a rough outline of what I wanted in this story.

But something happened.

My story diverged from my outline, like it does with so many writers out there. This isn’t a bad thing, but my plot diverged down more paths that I could keep track of with my rough outline.

It was time for an intervention.

If this sounds like you at all, you should probably try to make a physical copy of your outline.

If there’s anyone here that’s into psychology, maybe you can help me out with this one: I’m much more creative when I have physical tools in my hand. I can’t outline to the chapter level if I’m just using a keyboard. I need a pen in my hand and chicken scratch notes on paper to figure out where my story is going. This might be why I enjoyed making a storyboard so much – I could more thoroughly plot my story with pretty colored markers in my hand.

Not only did this storyboard help me straighten out my plot, but it also helped me find plot holes. This is HUGE! If there’s any way that you can find these before investing the time in betas or the money in editors, then you need to try it. I realized that I jumped scenes at some points and that some scenes were better suited in different places. I had characters appear out of thin air (okay, one character but I still found it amusing he magically came to the page of his own accord), a subplot that had no beginning, and an ending that was kind of eh.

If your novel is lacking something and you just can’t figure out what it is, pick up those markers and get to plotting!

How do I go about making the perfect storyboard outline?

I went to good old Walmart and picked up some supplies. Originally I wanted a tri-fold poster board. You know, the kind you hated growing up because you had to do so many of them for projects. When I got to Walmart, they were fresh out so I picked up regular foam-ish poster boards and some flash cards. I also got some markers because I didn’t want to get high off the smell of sharpies or have it bleed through to my dining room table.

Once I gathered all my supplies, I started to list major events in my novel, starting with my already existing Scrivener scene titles. These aren’t necessarily chapters for me, they’re kind of like “wider” beats. They don’t get down to the nitty gritty, but two of these beats could be a chapter, or just one. Since I had limited space, I ended up cutting up the flashcards so they were smaller. I would write a scene down, for example, “Abi gets published,” and then cut that off of my flashcard. Before I taped these onto my board, I spread them out on my dining room table.

It took me about a week to finish outlining, so poor Steven had to put up with this being strewn across our eating surface. But this was just to get everything in proper order.

I ended up moving some scenes around…a lot. My story is told from the perspective of a brother and a sister, and I realized about halfway through my scenes that the sister was getting the spotlight a lot more than the brother. This prompted a slew of rearranging and, obviously, some rewriting later on.

It was easier to spot this because I chose to use different colors for my different points of view. Abi (the sister) is purple, Ben (the brother) is green, the mother is Blue, Gran is pink, Mr. Flynn (their family friend) is brown, and the evil wicked woman is red. Sidenote: I’m still undecided as to what her name will be and have called her “Red” since July. Perhaps I’ll host a giveaway to have her be named by one lucky winner…thoughts?

I’m a pantser, I don’t need no storyboard!

What happens if you’re a pantser and you thrive on the unknown? You should still try a storyboard! If you prefer to write by the seat of your pants, then I would recommend waiting until you have your scenes written to venture into a physical outline (much like I did, except I am by no means a pantser).

At a certain point in your writing, you can no longer hold all the information in your head.  All the characters, places, fights, romantic scenes – it’s a lot when you look back on it. Even if you’re using something like Scrivener, it can still be difficult to remember what scene went where. In my case, I wrote 50k words in July, and then only managed to write 15k of new material and rewrites between July and November before writing another 50k. This break helped me in some ways, but it hindered me in others. I had time to objectively look at what I had already written and knew that I needed to do some rewrites. I did a lot of this in November and then tredged onward.

But it set me back when I tried to remember which scenes I had rewritten before November. I couldn’t remember the specifics of a pivotal scene because I knew I had changed it at one point. I had to spend time looking back and figuring it out and most times I didn’t even do that. I would just write “PLACE” instead of looking up the name I had chosen for that location. In my editing phase, I know that I can go back and fix that.

Storyboarding can help you realize where you have these redundancies or inconsistencies like I did. For a pantser, I would consider this phase more for editing than for drafting. You can go through with a wide tooth comb and undo those tangles you inadvertently added to your writing without sitting down to read the entire manuscript. Also, you can use this phase to add tidbits of foreshadowing that you might not have thought about before.

My results of the storyboard.

After slaving over this outline for a week (just kidding, it was fun!) I added about 30 new scenes and need to rewrite about 12. In the end, I realized that some scenes were not necessary to my storyline and I could cut them or revise them later on. This is good, because I’m already at 115k words and still need to write those 12 new scenes.

When I originally started writing this story, I thought 90k would be a good stopping point…I don’t know how authors can do it. Apparently, I’m not concise. I never realized that I could write that much and part of me worries that it’s too much. My beta-readers will obviously point this out to me if that’s that case (a process I can’t wait to start…no I’m not being sarcastic).

My goal is to have my first draft written by the end of December. Subtracting the 6 days I’ll be visiting relatives, that only leaves 9 days for me to write these new scenes. Technically, I don’t have to rewrite the 12 scenes as those would count as edits, aka Draft 2.0.

Still, I’m going to have to focus to get those scenes written in time.

But the most important result of creating my storyboard: I love my story! There’s moments where every writer feels like their writing is worthless garbage, but this storyboard definitely made me feel good about myself. I’m so close to being finished with my first draft and actually being an author. This blows my mind! I’ve wanted to be an author my whole life and creating this storyboard made me realize how much I’ve really accomplished so far.

I’ve also had an overwhelming response from readers and friends who are interested in my story and it just makes my day every time. For those of you waiting on the dirty deets of my novel, I’ll be open for new beta-readers early next year!


I want to hear from you, my wonderful reader! Have you ever tried storyboarding? What are your thoughts on it?

2 thoughts on “Storyboard Outlining for Your Novel

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  2. Pingback:How To Permanently Defeat Your Writer’s Block (a formula anyone can follow) – Vivien Reis

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