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Crafting Compelling Characters: A Guide to Using Storyboards

For my new novel "With A Good Eye" storyboards were particularly helpful in creating my character Luna Levi and her best friend Aiden Betel.

by Gila Green

Characters are the heart and soul of any compelling story. They drive the narrative, engage readers, and make the fictional world come alive. To create well-rounded, relatable characters, writers often use various tools and techniques. While storyboards are typically associated with visual storytelling, such as filmmaking and comics, they can also be a powerful tool for writers in character development. In this article, I explore how to use storyboards to build your characters and breathe life into your narratives. Now that I have written several novels, I need storyboards more than ever because I do not want my heroines to all sound, dress and speak alike. For my new novel "With A Good Eye" storyboards were particularly helpful in creating my character Luna Levi and her best friend Aiden Betel. 

Understanding the Basics

Before we delve into the world of character storyboards, let's clarify what a storyboard is and how it is traditionally used. A storyboard is a visual tool that outlines a story's key scenes or sequences, often used in filmmaking to plan shots, sequences, and transitions. Each board typically consists of a series of panels or frames that depict the visual elements and action in a story.

For writers, the idea of using storyboards may seem unusual, given that writing is primarily a textual medium. However, by adapting the concept of storyboarding, writers can gain valuable insights into their characters, their development, and the overall flow of their narrative.

Setting Up Your Character Storyboard

To get started with character storyboarding, you'll need some basic materials. These include a large poster board or a digital equivalent, such as a virtual board in a writing software, sticky notes, index cards, or digital tools like Trello or Scrivener.

  1. Choose Your Medium: Decide whether you want to create a physical character storyboard using poster board and sticky notes or a digital one using software tools. Both methods can be effective, so choose the one that suits your preferences.
  2. Divide the Storyboard: Divide your storyboard into sections or columns. Each column will represent a different aspect of character development, such as physical traits, personality traits, backstory, goals, and conflicts. Having these sections will help you organize your thoughts and ensure you cover all crucial character elements.

Character Elements to Consider

When developing characters, there are several key elements to consider, and your character storyboard should address each of these aspects:

  1. Physical Traits and Appearance: Start with the visual aspects of your character, including their age, gender, height, build, hair, eyes, clothing, and any distinctive physical features.
  2. Personality Traits and Quirks: Explore your character's personality in-depth. Consider their strengths, weaknesses, fears, desires, and any quirks or habits that make them unique.
  3. Backstory and History: A character's past plays a significant role in shaping who they are. Dive into their backstory, including their upbringing, experiences, and any traumatic or transformative events.
  4. Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts: What does your character want? What motivates them to take action, and what obstacles or conflicts stand in their way? This section is crucial for driving the plot forward.

Filling in the Storyboard

Now that your character storyboard is set up and you understand the essential character elements, it's time to start filling it in. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to use the storyboard to flesh out your characters:

  1. Physical Traits and Appearance: Create a panel for this section and add details about your character's physical appearance. You can use images, descriptions, or a combination of both to capture their look accurately.
  2. Personality Traits and Quirks: In a separate panel, delve into your character's personality. Describe their traits, such as introverted or extroverted, compassionate or ruthless, and any quirks that make them memorable.
  3. Backstory and History: Dedicate a panel to your character's backstory. Write down significant events from their past that have shaped their identity and choices. Include both positive and negative experiences.
  4. Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts: Create a panel for this crucial aspect of character development. Outline your character's goals, what motivates them to pursue these goals, and the conflicts or obstacles they face in achieving them.

Interconnecting Characters

Storyboards can also help you visualize the relationships and interactions between your characters. Consider creating separate character boards for each of your main characters and then arranging them on a larger board to show how they connect. This can be especially helpful in ensemble casts or stories with intricate character dynamics.

Understanding how characters relate to one another can lead to richer, more authentic interactions and conflicts within your narrative.

Evolving Your Characters

Characters, like real people, should evolve throughout the story. Your character storyboard can be a dynamic tool that grows and changes as your characters do. Periodically revisit your character boards to update them with new information, character growth, and plot developments.

As your characters evolve, you can add notes or make changes on your storyboard to reflect these changes. This process will help you maintain consistency in your characters' development and ensure that their actions and motivations remain true to their evolving personalities.

Character development is a fundamental aspect of storytelling, and using storyboards can be a valuable tool for writers seeking to create compelling and well-rounded characters. Whether you choose a physical storyboard with sticky notes or a digital one with specialized software, the key is to systematically explore your characters' physical traits, personality, backstory, goals, and conflicts.

By visually mapping out your characters' journeys, relationships, and growth, you'll not only gain a deeper understanding of your characters but also enhance the authenticity and engagement of your narrative. 

Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

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Author Interview: Erin Silver
First blurb for With A Good Eye


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Sunday, 26 May 2024

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