Monday, June 27, 2022

Brainstorming Alone? Use Storyboarding to Create Your Story

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

At the beginning of the month, I taught a class at the BRMCWC (Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference) on Storyboarding. It's a method used by advertising agencies for years. I first used it when I was the creative arts director at my church. I was charged with writing scripts to illustrate or set-up our pastor's sermons. When I became a writer, I have used this method when I don't have a buddy to brainstorm with at the time. 

All storybording takes is some sticky notes and blank wall space.

Are you a Plotters? Do you write out a detailed outline? Or are you SOTP (seat-of-the-pants)? I fall somewhere in between. When I started writing the book that became my first published novel, I was pretty much of a plotter. I had the beginning, the end, and a lot of the first third of my book plotted out. 

Then, when I’d written those chapters, I’d grind to a halt and go back and storyboard another third or so. And that’s okay. Some of you will storyboard the entire book.
  • First: Develop a “What if” idea. 
  • Second: Buy sticky notes. I use different colors for different characters (if more than one POV) and for conflict.
  • Third: Do your character work: Find the MC’s GMC or as I like to use: Wants, Because, Why not. 
So, what is Storyboarding? 

Storyboarding is visual brainstorming. Creatives in the advertising and comic book industries use storyboarding to lay out their ideas. 

Why Storyboard? 

Not everyone is good at plotting. Even if you’re SOTP, once you publish, your publisher will want a synopsis before you start writing. Unless you don’t want to send them a proposal until you’ve finished the book, you have to learn how to plot. They know the story can and probably will change from your initial proposal.

How to Storyboard

In group storyboarding, everyone contributes, no suggestion is off the table, nothing is dismissed as too silly or impossible, each idea thrown onto the board sparks another. It might be the umpteenth idea that turns out to be the best idea one. What if you stopped because one idea was silly? When the perfect one hits, everyone knows it.

Solo brainstorming

If you don’t have a group to work with, storyboarding can be a great way to brainstorm alone. It might take you a few minutes to get started, but if you begin with what you know, put a word or two for each on a sticky note and slap it up. Soon, your creativity will take over.

What Problems Plague You?

  • Conflict?
  • Romantic encounters?
  • Character arch?
  • Theme?
  • Inciting Incident? 
  • Black Moment?
  • What others?

Use a separate sticky note color for that area. 

Wall space

When I was a kid, I loved blank wall space. I grabbed a crayon and started writing. Blank wall space seems to beg us to get creative. So jot all those ideas on sticky notes and start slapping the, on the wall.

When the wall is covered

Once the wall is covered with stickies, move them around until you begin to see a flow. Then move them some more. When it looks good, put them in outline form on your computer. 

Have you ever storyboarded? How did it work for you? 


Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw PETER PAN on stage, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. And so, by night, she’s CEO of a community theatre company and by day, a bestselling, award-winning novelist. She lives in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, The Write Conversation, and Blue Ridge Conference Blog

Featured Image: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


  1. Have long been a proponent of storyboards Ms. Ane; first using them in the mid-80s. In the large (sometimes thousands of pages across 10 or more volumes), complex defense and aerospace proposals I helped create with multiple authors, it was the only way I found to "keep the story straight". It also ensured what I termed as "horizontal integration" across all the different volumes so the evaluators each read the same story. I think this is much the same in how we must structure the chapters of a novel or other book so the story is tied together throughout. Great tool and great way to present it ma'am.

    1. It's a great way to keep a huge story like those straight! I hadn't thought about across a series, but you're right!. I love storyboarding.

  2. Ane, you and I must be related. I used a version of storyboarding when I managed software development projects as a way to have the team establish goals, specific tasks, and dependencies of a project. I use the same technique now as an author. Lucky for me, I have a three-door (three-act) closet in my office (aka the guest room) where I can use post-it notes to keep track of scenes, characters, themes, and anything else I want to add. Things get pretty colorful as the story planning moves along.

    1. Kay, I'd LOVE to see those closet doors when you get them all storyboarded! I can imagine how colorful it is, and such a wonderful visual of all 3 acts. I love that. Now you have my mind whirling!!