Picture Your Story

Photo: Yvonne Lehman

Yvonne Lehman

Pictures are worth thousands of words. This is why a storyboard is an effective tool for me—and I believe can be for you. Of course, what a storyboard is and how to make one will differ from writer to writer.

I like to cut out pictures that represent my characters and story. This enables me to visualize my story quickly, effectively, and inexpensively with materials I have on hand: posters, file folders, magazines, brochures, pictures from the internet, scissors, glue (or staples, tape).

The pictures I use can represent any part of the story:

  • Characters: faces, physique, in action, expressions
  • Era: contemporary, historical
  • Settings: home, lake, ocean, airplane, car, neighborhood, city, country, seasons
  • Incidents: wrecks, romance, crime, dining
  • Styles: clothing, hair, homes, transportation
  • Mood: fear, horror, joy, petting an animal, holding a child, anger
  • Theme: mystery, love, secrets, faith

Types of storyboards

  1. Mainstream—In my novel Greystone, I use several posters because of multiple characters and plots or subplots. American, Japanese, and German characters inhabit my posters. The past takes place in winter, the present in summer. Pictures of people in distress, or joy, draw from me the feelings I want to express.
  2. Women’s Fiction—Several file folders suffice for these. In Coffee Rings, my main character is in her 70’s. Three other women are in their early 40’s. My pictures show what each looks like and how they dress. The three younger women meet weekly at a Tea Room so I have a picture of the room and table. Their images represent how I see them. The older woman appears kind, but determined. Around them are pictures that show conflicts, jobs, and relationships.
  3. Romances—Fewer file folders are required since the focus is on the main male and female characters. Images include their work, friends, homes, pets, children, church, single’s groups.
  4. Novels to write someday—When I have a strong feeling about a story I plan to write, I write a brief overview or a few lines of the idea. I pick up a map of where the story happens and brochures about the area and pop them into a file folder, along with any pictures or information that intrigues me.

Storyboards are more valuable to me than a written outline, and enable me to write the synopsis. They’re fun—and help me feel like my characters are right in front of me.

During her 25-year writing career, Yvonne Lehman has written short stories, articles, and 48 historical and contemporary novels in the categories of mainstream, biblical, romance, young adult, mystery, and women’s fiction. Her collection of three historical Hawaiian novels, Aloha Brides, will release in April 2011.

Working on a novel or short story? Meet with an editor or agent at the Writing for the Soul conference. -->


  1. Michael Ehret says

    Yvonne, I know many writers who swear by storyboarding. I’m just getting ready to start working on a new short story idea … I think I’ll play with the idea and see if it helps me on a shorter project.


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