A narrative project often has a temporal or spatial component. At some level, it always is a way of creating a path through a more complex set of information. Creating a storyboard helps you map out this path, and also decide what visual or other media elements along the way will help you convey the information in a way that is clear, consistent, and cohesive. The storyboard acts like an outline or blueprint for your project, letting you plan content and its format without worrying too much about technological implementation.
You should plan to make your storyboard after you have a basic idea of the message you want to convey and the main pieces of content or media you want to include. The process will help you see what kinds of content or media you are missing, and may help you decide what is extraneous, so you want to make your storyboard before you spend a lot of time writing a script, editing media, or creating new elements. You should also have some sense of the format you want for your final output and how you will distribute it, even if you haven’t decided on exact tools. Different types of tools allow different types of storytelling, and what you include in your storyboard will change a lot depending on whether you are making a video, a guided architectural tool, or a podcast. However, you may wait to decide on an exact tool until you’ve made a draft storyboard, as some tools and platforms are better than others for certain kinds of effects or media processing. Making your storyboard may tell you that you need to spend more time finding audio resources, or that you will need to make some data visualizations or other graphics.
You can use a special tool to make a storyboard, but you can also use something simple you already use for other projects, or even just sketch your storyboard on paper or a whiteboard. If you like working with a pen and paper, large post-it notes are a great tool for making a storyboard: you can sketch each “moment” in the narrative on its own page, then reorder them to figure out the pathway and its transitions. This is especially useful if you feel like you have too much content or that there isn’t a clear route through your story.
Powerpoint, Google Slides, and other presentation-making or mindmapping software is often a good match: anything that supports the combination of text and images into a particular order. Ideally, the tool will give you some flexibility about including media; you will likely want to be able to indicate or paste in specific media like images or maps, but also be able to sketch or roughly indicate features like framing, angles, or the presence of media that you haven’t created yet.
There are also special tools designed just for making storyboards, which are often a good idea if you are working with video, animation, or other projects where timing and visual transitions are particularly important.
Storyboarder (especially good for animation and video, and entering content by sketching)
ThePlot (the free version only gives you 8 “scenes,” so don’t use it for long projects)
Each key “moment” in your narrative, focusing on how it is presented (images, video clips, maps, data visualizations, and so on) in addition to key text, factual, or interpretive content. Think of this as the outline, but an outline envisioned as a series of screenshots: what does your audience see, hear, or read at a particular moment? Make sure to include not just content, but how the audience encounters that content: include basic ideas about framing, static vs. action shots, on-screen text or captions, and so on. In later drafts of your storyboard, you may also want to include some stylistic details like color themes or soundtrack information.
How these moments are ordered into a narrative arc. Remember that your story may have smaller mini-stories embedded in it that loop back to the main narrative.
How the narrative moves from moment to moment. What is the timing and how quickly do you move through the points? Do you linger on some longer than others? What do these transitions look like, and do any of them include additional minor story points? Depending on your platform, you might include a timeline that shows how many seconds or minutes you spend on each moment, or details like camera motion. You would also want to consider whether transitions are automatic or whether the audience interacts with the content in some way to move it forward (like clicking).
Start with your start and end points, and how much time you have to tell the story between those points. What information does someone need to have to join the narrative? Are you sure they have this information, or do you need to provide any background or introduction? What do you want them to remember at the end, and what should the final message include? Do you want to send them to some other content, as them to interact or give feedback, or do something else?
Decide on these points, and think about the way you can communicate or reinforce these starting and ending points through images, text, or other media. Would a map or timeline help provide background? Is there a particularly memorable photo you want to use? Thinking about the starting and ending points together will help you create a unified narrative and keep the most important points in mind as you build the rest of the narrative between them.
Then consider the main points along the way. Don’t try to include everything at this stage, just the most important stages. How many “stops” do you have along this path, and how many of them are already familiar to your audience? Which ones are the most important? Make sure that your storyboard emphasizes the most important elements visually/graphically and by features like how much time you spend on a moment, music or audio, or transition style. These are all things that you can explore by reading about narrative processes for particular tools or by looking at other projects.
Continue Reading: Timelines & Workflows for Narrative Projects