When it comes to picture books I love the initial writing and character design phases, but it’s when I sit down to storyboard that the magic happens. Images and words weave together, characters run across the page, meaning unfurls and the story comes alive.
Storyboarding is designing the 14 spreads of a picture book – combining the words and illustrations on the page to create the final layout you’ll see in the printed form. When I’m storyboarding, there are three main things I keep in mind:
- Mood: what is the mood of each scene and how can I capture it?
- Character: how can I best convey the essence of each character?
- Story Arc: how can I build the story towards the climax and deliver a satisfying end?
For me, these are the essential elements of story. They’re especially important (and difficult) to capture in a picture book, as there’s so little room and time in which to do so. These are some techniques I use to capture the story elements and create interest when storyboarding:
- Vary the Layout: such as close-ups vs distance shots, different viewpoint angles, changing where you place the characters on the page from spread to spread
- Consider Positive & Negative Space: too many consecutive spreads with full bleed images can be overwhelming, or worse, boring. Moving between full-page and part-page images creates contrast
- Match Composition & Mood: if a character is shocked / scared, a severe close up of their eyes may heighten this for the viewer, or if a character is lonely, a distance shot with blank space around them could evoke a sense of isolation
- Body-Language: make sure the characters’ positioning, stance and interaction with the environment is consistent, but varies across the spreads for interest
- Use of Colour: even though I storyboard in black and white, I think a lot about colour. Colour can be used for contrast, to create focus and to evoke mood
Here you can see an example storyboard from my latest picture book. I created the template in word, with four spreads to a page, and I print off as many as I need for each project. The images are small, as thumbnail sketches are best for studying composition. My rule is to keep the images quick and rough, as I shouldn’t be focusing on how ‘good’ an image is at this stage: layout is key. Most importantly, I need to be able to view all spreads at once, as this is the best way to spot repetition. I always write the text next to the images so I can work on them together – once I’ve designed the spreads I often cut back on the text in order to let the images speak for themselves. Storyboards are useful even for non-illustrators – you can lay out the words, ensuring your story fits well across the 14 spreads and gives the illustrator enough variety to work with.
I’ve finished this storyboard for now, but just like a novel draft, I’ll now leave it to simmer for a while. When I come back to it with fresh eyes, I know I’ll be better able to spot its strengths and weaknesses.