Storyboarding 2: Getting Ready

As I said last week in the first entry of our storyboarding miniseries, the beauty of storyboarding is freedom but the challenging part of storyboarding is also freedom.  I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed by the unlimited opportunities I’m going to present, so here’s the plan:  this week I’m talking about freedom.  I want you to get the right materials to free up options as you start your storyboarding project.  Next week then, I’ll talk about the process I used and give you directions for actually creating your storyboard.

But today: Materials and Environment.


You have to have the right tool for the job, that’s where all this starts.  All of these options are flexible because everyone has different ways that they like to work, and different resources available to them, but these are the things which I have found to be most helpful.

The Board

Turns out, I have a love for cork board.  Once you start working with it, you’ll find that you love it too.  Why?  Flexibility.  Nothing in a cork board is set in stone.  If you don’t like how something ends up on your story board, you can just move it, and the cork board will take care of you.  The second reason I love it is that you can get it in large sizes.  The more surface area your cork board has, the more room your story has to grow.  So find yourself a big rectangular cork board (probably at an office supply store) and get ready to have some fun.

Important notes: Later on, we’re going to be sticking thumbtacks into the cork so the cork has to be think enough to keep the thumbtacks from sticking into whatever surface (Table, floor, or lap) that you’re working on.  If you get a thin corkboard roll (which looks super cool) you’ll need to attach a board to it, or double it over to protect the finish on your mama’s table.

Alternative materials: For my first storyboard, I used a couple of old Styrofoam boards which I had glued together (totally not for the process of making my own foam swords and ninja stars).  They actually worked really well, but aren’t quite as forgiving when they’re being punctured and thumbtacked over and over and over again.  Cork is a much higher quality product, but Styrofoam works if you’re on a writer’s budget.  (Just a note, your grandma might have a large cork board she wasn’t using just waiting in the basement for a new best friend.  Mine did.  Shout out to Grandma!)

The Cards

Next up, you need the cards.  Index cards are best for a couple reasons.  They are lined.  They are all the same size.  They are color coded (more on that later.)  Big cards eat up space fast, so the smaller the better.  I bought a couple packages of 3×5 index cards at the store but then decided to cut them in half to get the size I needed.  Shy away from anything larger than those; you’re going to want more space before this is over.

Important Notes: Depending on what kind of story you are going to be doing, you may just want to get white cards.  Too many colors can be a case of too many options, and in a minute we’re going to be discussing a work around for adding more colors in anyway.  So, unless your story is a multi-POV novel or something just insanely complicated, you may want to stick with white cards.

Alternative materials: All of my previous (unsuccessful) storyboarding attempts have been made with post-it notes.  Please, avoid them like the plague.  They don’t stick well to anything, especially once they’ve been moved two or three times, and they also don’t lay flat on your board.  Index cards are not that expensive.  Do yourself a favor, invest in your storyboard.  (I got a hundred for a dollar so… no excuses.)

The Pens

Okay, new rule: Pencils are a no-no.  I admit, I did my story board in pencil, but I regret it.  When you’re in the process of storyboarding, things are happening so fast it can be so easy to erase something you wrote and replace it with a better idea.

Twenty minutes of brainstorming later however, you might be hurting for the idea you erased, and then forgot.  Don’t do this to yourself.  You have plenty of index cards.  If you have a new idea, you can set one inked card aside and write your new idea on a whole new card.  Then, later, you can look back at where you came from and decide which idea to use.

Second rule of pens: get some colors.  Sure, you want to do most of your writing in black just to help ease up the craziness of your board on the eye, but you also want options.  Having colored pens next to you while you’re story boarding is a fantastic way to make sure that your storyboard remains flexible.  I’ll discuss some different ideas for colored pens later on, but for now you just need to make sure you have them.

The Tacks

Oh, yeah, get yourself some push-pins or thumbtacks or something so that you can record your storyboard for posterity.  (Or at least for your mid-novel writing crisis.)

Important note: thumbtacks are not actually for tacking thumbs.


That’s it for the supplies department.  A good board, a few cards, some pens, and a few non-thumby thumbtacks are all you need!  Before we close out or the day though, I’d like to touch on one more important detail for storyboarding preparation:


Storyboarding is a momentum sport.  The longer you do it in one sitting, the better you will get.  Don’t expect to sit down for five minutes a day and work wonders.  Instead, find an afternoon or evening which you can devote solely to one thing, and start working the problem.  It will take a while to get all your story ideas uploaded into you mind before you actually start making ideas, so don’t give up too quickly.  Also, a lot of your ideas when you’re storyboarding will come from the random connections that your subconscious makes for you.  That means, you need to clear your mind.  If the family is watching TV, go to a different room.  If your phone won’t stop dinging, throw it in a lake (or maybe just turn it off and set it to charge for a few hours.)  On that note, if you are one of those people (like me) who works best when there’s a little background music playing, pick something instrumental and unengaging for this particular task.  The best thing that could happen is that you forget that it (and the rest of the outside world) exists for these few precious moments you have to spend working on your storyboard.

And how you’re going to work on your storyboard… we’ll cover that next week.  (Sorry, I hate to be that guy.  But I have my moments.)   Hopefully then, this will all start coming together.

See y’all then!


Photo: IMG_5002, Cindee Sinder Re, CC BY NC 2.0

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Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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