Storyboarding a Children’s Book

girls on desk looking at notebook

When was the last time you picked up a children’s book to study the pictures?

I’ll admit, I hadn’t even touched a children’s book for a long time when I decided to write one of my own. This meant I had a lot to catch up on before starting.

As mentioned before, words are one thing. In fact, they’re the most central thing to the story. But pictures… pictures can either make or break the words you spent months writing and perfecting.

So where do these pictures come from?

Well, not from the tooth fairy.

A little-known fact about writing a children’s book is the amount of planning that goes into each picture on each page.

You see, everyone knows that you need illustrations in order to have a children’s book, but what comes first is a long process of experimentation—known as storyboarding.

When I first began writing The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock, I had little concept of how many illustrations there would be, let alone what they would look like. Forget the author-illustrator idea—aside from the fact that I had no formal art training, I knew I was going to need help.

It began by storyboarding.

Thanks to a great group of individuals who were willing to provide feedback early in the process, I was able to construct a storyboard capturing the essential scenes that needed images. This in itself felt like a step back into childhood as I found myself squatting on the floor with a friend, sketching out third-grade quality pictures with colorful markers on giant sticky notes. Because that’s how the professionals do it, of course.

In fact, the childishness of this storyboarding process actually helped to clear out the cobwebs of my “kid brain” and infuse the pictures with the type of youthful energy the final illustrations would need. It helped that my friend and I shared a goofy sense of humor, which enabled us to embellish and complement one another’s ideas with playful additions (not the least of which being a bearded sock).

So just as films require a list of shots, children’s books require a list of scenes.

For anyone considering storyboarding, let me encourage you in this: go all-out.

Just as the writing process for a children’s book demands your full investment of creativity and quirkiness, the storyboard demands your enthusiastic imagery, no matter your art skills. The key is to have fun, not to make the storyboard pictures look perfect. And I can guarantee that if you were creative enough to write the book, you’re creative enough to come up with at least some ideas for imagery.  Even if you’re not particularly visually gifted, find someone to help you! It can be a great process of bonding, laughing, and ultimately discovering new ideas.

To be transparent, I had two things working against me in this department:

1) I am not good at creating visuals

2) I am a perfectionist

When people ask me to take pictures or film things, they sometimes say, “Get creative! You’re a writer!”

At which point I want to shout, “It’s a different kind of creative!!”

Which it is. Writing and imaging are two very different animals. Some people are good at both, others are good at one. Ask me to write a compelling visual description? No problem. Ask me to sketch out a scene or plan a sequence of camera shots? Well…

This is where, if you are like me, bringing other people into the process can save your creative bacon—and even teach you a few things into the process.

Secondly, while perfectionism is a friend of thoroughness, it is the enemy of creativity.

As a writer, I often fear soiling a notebook with imperfect words, which leads to a sort of pre-writing paralysis. But when it’s storyboarding time, there is no place for clean notebook paper (or clean giant sticky notes, if you prefer). That paper needs to get messy! Forget your art skills or lack thereof. Unless you plan to illustrate the whole thing, that will be someone else’s job. Your job is to figure out which moments of the story make for the best scenes, and to communicate the type of energy you want in the pictures.

Lastly, always recognize that what you create in a storyboard will change. Once you bring an illustrator into the process, the raw ideas will begin to adapt and take definite shape. That is one of the most exciting parts of the entire process—which is why next week’s article will delve into the author-illustrator dynamic. Stay tuned!

Have you ever struggled to express yourself visually or are you good with transforming words into pictures?

Have you ever let the fear of imperfection hold you back from doing something, even if no one was looking? How have you conquered that fear?

Got kids? Grandkids? Nieces and nephews?

Or are you just plain curious to find out where all the missing socks go? Find out one ambitious sock’s journey by ordering your copy of The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock!

Order now and have it within 2 weeks, with FREE SHIPPING!

2 Comments on “Storyboarding a Children’s Book

  1. 1. I can take decent photos (i.e. I don’t cut people’s heads off, I try to center the main object, etc.).
    2. There are times when I get inspired and take photos out of the blue (usually nature or stationary objects).
    3. I know exactly what you mean when people tell you to get creative when taking photos. How many different shots of the same thing can you get?

    • Right?? When people ask if you take good pictures, you can at least promise everyone will be in the photo! But yes, true photographers have an art of their own.

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