Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Graphic Novels: A “New” Way to Tell a Story?

by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

What exactly is a Graphic Novel? Honestly, it’s just a story told with mostly pictures. Words are definitely important, of course, but they are not the main way of telling the story in a GN. In a lot of ways, children’s books—up through chapter books—are all a form of GNs, since illustrations are used to help tell the story to non- or early readers. But pictures have always been a great way of telling any story, to any audience.

GNs open a whole new way to tell any kind of story to every age. I don’t believe they will ever completely replace books with only words, but a new, visually-connected audience is out there, just waiting to be engaged in story. 

So, how do we write them? 

Since we’re not using just words, it can be a little different for a writer of only words to wrap their head around. But we’re still just telling a story. I suggest you create three versions of each scene, with the aspects you’ll need:
  • Plot
  • Words
  • Illustrations or illustration ideas

Each of these elements can be visualized on a storyboard, frame by frame. Storyboards have been around for a century or so, most often used in the film industry, but they’re very useful in any type of writing. When first creating a story, storyboarding is immensely basic. Spending a lot of time with picture details until you get the story straight can be a waste and may even cause you to limit your ideas because you’ve put a lot of work into it. Instead, we want to be unlimited, at least in the first draft, so we can really figure out what goes in and what gets thrown away.

Important things:
  • A storyboard is usually a rough outline
  • Each picture should tell an important moment in the story
  • Be open to where the story may decide to go but don’t follow too many rabbit trails
  • Add details as you think about them but recognize you may have to go back for more
  • Write tight. You do NOT have the room to expound. Each word has to earn its place
  • If you need to figure something out, it’s perfectly all right to go back to your computer and actually write a scene, then insert the concept into the storyboard
I create a template page that looks like this:




Illustration ideas





Frame #2




Frame #3




As you see, each frame (the building blocks of a graphic novel) has a place marker where the writer can insert the important pieces. So, when you visualize your story, you can put information into each block as you think of it. For instance, stories need plot—my favorite version is The Hero’s Journey—where we know what happens next. I start with an inciting incident (Call to Adventure) and go from there. I may not know exactly what happens next but I can jump around as the story unfolds. 

These blocks can (and probably should) be expanded to separate pages. Here’s my version, which I print, punch holes in, and put as many pages as I think I’ll need into a binder then, as I work through the story, I add pages in or take pages out or move pages around as I go.

This way, you have the ability to write down what you know you need at any given point, with words and illustration ideas as you go.

My “Words” section is very concise, because I now have a picture to aid my story. I may write an entire sentence in the first draft—or more if I need it!—but when the book is done, each frame will have minimal words in it. Since I am not artistic, at least on canvas, my illustrations consist of stick people – or just a description that an illustrator may use to create something fabulous. (If you too need aid for that side of it, you can hire illustrators on the internet. Just be sure of what you’re asking for and what you’re getting.)

When I was doing research for this article, I found a company that produces Christian Fiction Graphic Novels. Some of the fiction stories are taken directly from the Bible, and some are modern versions of Biblical stories. This particular company also prints a GN version of both the Old and New Testaments, which I think is most interesting. 

Non-fiction GN books are also available, including memoirs, so, if you’re interested, I recommend that you look into the vast array of possibilities. After all, we’re all telling stories!


Sarah (Sally) Hamer, BS, MLA, is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres—mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction—she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for almost twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at WWW.MARGIELAWSON.COM. Sally is a freelance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at or WWW.SALLYHAMER.BLOGSPOT.COM

From Sally: I wish to express gratitude to the giants upon whose shoulders I stand and who taught me so much about the writing craft. I would list every one, if it were only possible.

Featured Image: Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you so much! I have an idea, but I haven't met anyone who deals with graphic novels. I so appreciate the encouragement as well as the practical tips to start and get organized. Have you published any graphic novels?

    1. Hi! I'm working on my first one but I've done a lot of this type work over the years, mostly with screenplays.
      Hope it gives you some good ideas!

    2. I'm not on my regular computer, since I'm out of town. But this is Sarah Sally. :)

  3. So what company is currently publishing graphic novels? You dangled that carrot out there. :) I've been long aware of The Action Bible from David C Cook. A short search online showed that Ted Dekker wrote a GN series in early 2000s published by Thomas Nelson, but nothing leaped out as a company doing only GN. Who is it? Thanks, Grace