How a Storyboard Saved My Story

Just like my kids don't see anything wrong with marshmallows for breakfast, I couldn't find anything wrong with my picture book manuscript.  Yet, it had been three months since my submission, and it was clearly time to pick up the ms for an edit. But I didn't know how to start.

So I decided to try storyboarding.  A storyboard is simply the layout of all 32 pages of a picture book on one big diagram.  This isn't like an illustrator's storyboard which would be sent to an editor with pretty pictures.  This is my private tool, and no one gets to see it.  Well, no one except you.  

children's books, writing, Lauri Meyers
My First Storyboard
I decided to get crafty by cutting out rectangles of colored paper representing each spread.   I taped all the sheets together and hung them on a door.   On 3x5 cards I wrote the key action for that page.  Once everything was laid out, I took a step back to admire my work.  

Hmm.  The 10 empty pages, um, lacked some interest.   Other problems became transparent too.  There was an exciting page that said "describe the girl."  a. Boring.  b. The illustrator is probably going to beat me to the punch there.    Unsatisfied with my ending, there was the last page where I wrote "some cute ending here."

Mind you, this manuscript was sent already.  I went upstairs to get a brown paper bag so I could hyperventilate in style.   Once I was breathing normally again, I realized this was not in fact the end of the world.   Clearly, I had learned a lot in the months since the submission to identify these issues on my own.  So I put on a smile and got to work.

Here's what I learned:

I don't have to fill 32 pages (phew!).   A picture book has 24 to 30 pages of writing depending on the book layout.    (Briefly, a "Self-Ended" layout has up to 24 pages of writing and a "Colored Ends" layout has up to 30 pages of writing.  The other pages are title, copyright, blank, etc.  Find more info on layouts here and here.)

I was a bad parent- at least a bad parent for my character.   I needed to make sure the reader knew and loved my character by page 3 to keep reading. 

I was capable of imagining how the words and illustrations would fit on a page, even though I am not an illustrator.  I started to see where action was missing or where lines were not adding any value to the story.  New ideas appeared which tightened the story.

I needed to practice "pacing" and "page turns".  So I put gold stars (well, actually glitter mermaid stickers) on my favorite pages.   The strings of boring pages cried "I want a mermaid too!"  

I had to find the sweet spot between leaving room for the illustrator and giving the illustrator something to work with.  On some pages I added more interesting wording, and on others I reduced the specificity of the description. 

After a significant edit, I have a much stronger manuscript.  Now we just have to see if the next publisher agrees.   

children's books, writing, lauri meyers
Story fleshed out more!
Please leave a comment to share your tips for editing picture books and using storyboards!


  1. Inspiring! I've read about this but never actually tried it before. I might give it a go with my new WIP. Glad to hear the writing/editing's coming along! :)

    1. The process took less than an hour, so give it a try. The panic attack and figuring out what to do took the most time!

  2. Hi Lauri, I think this is a great method and really does help lay out your story in a clear way. Like you say, you can see the weak spots and the strong spots which helps to improve the story as a whole. Thanks for sharing your method! :-)

    1. I am finding I can also flip to the back of a ms and draw 12 rectangles. Then I can quickly lay out the book to get a read on length and missing spots. I don't get as many ideas out of it, but it is a quick jumpstart to editing when I am stuck.

  3. I can't believe I have never heard of "self-ended" and "color-ended" layouts. Are these technical terms? The majority of picture books that I have read have 28 pages of text, sometimes 29 or 30. I made a book dummy for one of my books. It really does help, but I don't go through the hassle of actually creating a book dummy anymore. Hope your new ms has better luck.

    1. Thanks for the luck Christie! Here's another great resource at Editorial Anonymous.


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