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How to Write a Storyboard

In my job as a marketer, I need to communicate with people on a daily basis. Sometimes, I do a good job and they understand me immediately. Sometimes, I fail and they don’t get it. In many cases, it’s in the way I tell the story. It’s about the metaphors I use and the way I structure my story.

The same goes for videos, films and commercials. It’s all about the story and the storyline. A great tool to structure the story of a film is a storyboard.

What is a storyboard?

A storyboard is an illustration of all the elements that you want to include in your video. It often looks like the panels of a comic strip, and it shows the key scenes of a video, commercial or movie shot by shot. A storyboard captures events, sets and characters that will appear in the video. It tells who or what will be on camera. It’s major purpose is to map out the flow of the final production. So the storyboard is usually a preparation of the actual video shoot.

What is a storyboard good for?

A storyboard is a fast and easy way to show and share your imagination. It’s a visual way to present a story, before actually producing a real video. It gives you a base to work out, or further develop an idea. Producers, directors and other team members can easily see, discuss and test the story scene by scene. If there are disagreements, they are easy to resolve before actually producing the video. This saves time and money, and helps to keep the budget low. So a storyboard is a great way to inspire new ideas.

A well-known storyboard-fan, or even fanatic, was Alfred Hitchcock. He worked out every shot of a film, before he went into the film’s production. For Hitchcock, the storyboarding itself was the process of filmmaking, not the film production. Shooting the film was then just a necessity. Producing a movie was just the execution of creating live versions of his storyboard. (Videomaker)

Show and share your imagination.
Show and share your imagination.

What makes a good storyboard?

Before you actually start to create a storyboard, there are some general tricks you can apply. In case you like to boost your storytelling skills first, have a look at our storytelling article.

Keep visuals simple

By keeping it simple, you can win over clients and co-workers more easily to your ideas. A simple storyboard offers the opportunity to change things with less effort. It also keeps the process of filmmaking lean, easy and flexible.

Focus on the big idea

When creating a storyboard, it is easy to get lost in details. Be aware that there is a lot of distraction out there. So make sure you concentrate on the big idea before looking at anything else. When you got the main idea straight, you can come back for the details.

Be visual, avoid text

Who likes to read a lot when there are great pictures to follow? So instead of using a lot of text, you can use visuals to support your story. Metaphors and analogies, especially, are a great way to tell a vivid story. Metaphors help us to make sense of the world. They are the perfect way to communicate a visual message, because they paint pictures in the watchers’ minds. Just like a video. (Visualthinkingmagic)

How to create a storyboard step by step

Part 1: Work out your story

Think about the key scenes in your story

The first thing you should do, when you start to work out your storyboard, is to identify the key scenes in your story. What are the most essential shots? When do you have plot twist or important changes? Do you have changes in the location? A good way is to brainstorm a list of all the key moments of your story. Having a list makes it easy to decide how you like to include them.

Create a narrative timeline

After you’ve identified the key scenes, you should order the events chronologically. This makes it easy to follow your story and prevents your team from getting lost. Beside the chronological order, you should add parameters like the location and time when your story takes place.

We all know movies like Pulp Fiction that aren’t completely linear. Many movies use elements like time travel, shifting perspectives, deja vus or flash forward. Even in this case, you can still work with a narrative timeline.

Decide about the level of detail

It happens to the best of us to feel overwhelmed by all the details that you need to cover. When you are not strict enough about your level of detail, you can spend hours on every illustration. In most cases, it is helpful to maintain a practical perspective on the storyboard. You don’t want your team to get lost in trying to interpret the shots. So better keep it simple in your first version. You can always add more detail later on. Ideally, your storyboard contains all necessary information, but is still easy to understand.

In case you are producing an entire film and want to be more detailed about it, you can break it down into individual scenes. For every scene, you create a separate storyboard. This allows you to include important details, but still keep it clear and organized.

Think about the level of detail.
Think about the level of detail.

Write a distinct cell description

The last step is to describe the action taking place in each of your illustrations. A good way is to focus on the most important elements of each individual shot. What kind of setting do you have? What action takes place? What emotions do your characters need to express?

Storyboard Template – Free Download

Please download our free storyboard template right here. You can use our template as a foundation for your next movie or video. Our storyboard template helps you to visualize your ideas and imaginations. It contains a practical PowerPoint and a PDF version. Feel free to adapt our storyboard template to your personal needs and requirements.


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Part 2: Work out the design

Pen and paper versus digital storyboard

Now it’s time to design your storyboard. You basically have two options to work out illustrations: You can work digitally or you can work analog. If you prefer to work digitally, you can use a storyboard template. You can find all kinds of templates for PowerPoint, InDesign and Word out there.

Just download the storyboard and start drawing on your computer. A digital drawing board might be helpful. There are some online tools to create a storyboard as well. Storyboardthat.com is a well-known web app that lets you create a storyboard easily.

If you prefer to draw a pen and paper based storyboard, I still recommend downloading and printing out a storyboard template. This way, you save the time it would take to create a template yourself, and cells will always look neat and accurate.

Before you start to work on your storyboard, you should be clear about the aspect ratio. Film typically has a format of 16:9. TV used to be 4:3. (Howcast)

Make or buy a storyboard?

In case you don’t feel capable of creating your own illustrations, you can hire an illustrator, of course. You will find great illustrators on behance, for example. But even when you have no talent for drawing, I recommend you draw the first version of your storyboard yourself.
There is a simple reason for this: You will get lots of feedback on your storyboard. This means a lot of feedback loops. Imagine you have an illustrator who has to rework your storyboard every time. You will spend a lot of time communicating your change requests to him. Furthermore, you have to pay for any change request. Illustrating the first versions of your storyboard yourself will save you some time and resources.

Start drawing your storyboard

You don’t feel comfortable with drawing, but you don’t have money for an illustrator? Lucky you! There are some simple tricks everybody can apply to create better illustrations and make a storyboard look more like movie scenes. Dreamworks published some great tips at nofilmschool.com that will help you draw better storyboards. (Nofilmschool)

Start drawing your storyboard.
Start drawing your storyboard.

Work with grids to gain perspective

An easy way to gain more control over perspective, and your storyboard drawings, is to work with a grid. Using a grid will simplify your drawing process, because it helps you hit the right perspective more easily.

When working with grids, you should avoid flat floors. It looks way more natural to work with a three point perspective. The reason lies in the higher dynamics you gain through more depth illustrations. This will result in better shots in the end.

Color the objects and add levels of perspective

This certainly belongs to one of the basic lessons in photography and cinematography. But when it comes to illustrations, we forget about this trick easily. I am talking about depth you gain through playing with a foreground, a midground and a background. It brings a sense of texture, location and dynamic to your illustrations. So, instead of drawing your characters all on one single horizon line, you can place them on different levels to add perspective. (BloopanimationNofilmschool)

Another elegant trick to gain even more perspective is to color your objects. This helps the watcher to differentiate them from the background. You will instantly gain a more cinematic look for your drawings.

Adding perspective to your drawings will support your videos, movies or commercials. The more perspective you have in your illustrations, the better it works in the filmmaking process.

Part 3: Additional information and details

After the illustration part, it’s time to add some important information to you storyboard.

Shot description

A good way to start is by adding a description of what is happening in the shot. You should answer the question, how long a shot will take. And when there is dialog taking place, include that information with the scene as well. But always keep in mind to keep it short and concrete. Otherwise, you run the risk of overexerting clients and co-workers.

Add short descriptions.
Add short descriptions.

Use a numbering system

To keep the overview over your story, it is important to number each scene. When you have shots that take up multiple frames, you can work with secondary numbers like 2a, 2b and 2c. This will help you to stay clear about the order.

Add camera movement

In case you want to indicate the way the camera should move in the final video, you can put arrows into your illustrations. The arrows simply point to the direction in which you want the camera to move.
A more subtle way to indicate camera movement are motion lines. They emphasize the velocity towards an object. Another way to show a camera movement is to work with multiple frames showing the same object from a different angle.

Logically group characters

In case you deal with multiple characters, you should logically group them. This is especially helpful when it comes to editing. It’s way easier for your audience to cut back and forth between them. Having a certain order prevents you from confusing your team. Another strategy is to label your characters with A to D for example. (Nofilmschool)

Part 4: Revision and fine tuning

The last step in creating a storyboard should be the review and revision part. As soon as you have the first draft of your storyboard ready and you feel quite good about it, it’s time to get qualified feedback.
But before you ask somebody else, it is helpful to let your storyboard sit for some time. I had the best experience, when I didn’t touch it for a while and then went back to it with a fresh mind. Sometimes, even one night can be enough.
When you have done your personal review, you should get feedback from others. In case you don’t sit in the same room with your sparring partners, you can try our web app, Filestage, to discuss your storyboard. It is an easy way to manage feedback and work collaboratively.

Conclusion

Once you are ready with you storyboard and you finally go into the video’s production, your storyboard will be a big help. But even if you’ve invested a lot of time and effort to work out your storyboard, you should still be open to new input. You can always come across new ideas for shots you couldn’t imagine before. That’s what makes filming such an amazing thing.

The Ultimate Checklist for Creating a Storyboard

Part 1: Work out your story

  • Think about the key scenes in your story
  • Create a narrative timeline
  • Decide about the level of detail
  • Write a distinct cell description

Part 2: Work out the design

  • Decide if you prefer paper or digital
  • Work with grids to gain perspective
  • Color the objects and add different levels of perspective

Part 3: Additional information and details

  • Describe your shots
  • Use a numbering system
  • Add camera movement
  • Logically group characters

Part 4: Revision and fine tuning

  • Let your storyboard sit for while
  • Get qualified feedback on your storyboard

Download Here Our Free Storyboard Checklist

We created a lean, super helpful list of the 8 steps necessary to create an amazing storyboard. If you want to save time and make a key first impression with your storyboard, feel free to check out our storyboard pdf checklist download below!


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What is your workflow when creating a storyboard? What are your tips and tricks to make it awesome? Let me know in the comments.

Passionate about communications and client relations. He loves to dig into behavioral economics to uncover the irrationality in our daily behavior.

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