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shawna-tenney-author-photo-smallby Shawna J.C. Tenney

Any good film director uses a storyboard. So why not every picture book writer? After all, a picture book is a full story experience almost like a movie, just a little shorter.

A storyboard can help you pace your story, even if you are an author only. It can help you think about what you can leave out of the text and show in the illustrations. It can help you think of where to pause in the words and let the pictures do their magic…

A storyboard is different from a dummy book in that you can see the whole story at once. The dummy book simulates the real book with page turns. A storyboard will help you visualize your entire manuscript all at once.

Here are some ideas to help you start thinking visually!

Pacing Book:

Start by making a pacing book. To make a pacing book, fold 8 pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 copy paper in half. and staple them down the folded side. Now you have 32 pages! The front page will be your title page. Either the second page or the back page will be your copyright page.

Now cut up your manuscript. Tape your story in your book. Move sentences and paragraphs around. Imagine what could be in the pictures. Figure out where your page turns could be. You will soon find out if your story is long enough.

Note that the illustrator will figure out the final pacing of the book, so if you are only the author, you won’t have a say in how the book will be laid out. But this will help you have a good idea if the pacing is working. I will help you see if there are too many words in a certain section of the book.


Here is the storyboard I made for my new book, BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY…plus the final images from the book.


(Click for larger version)


Final Title Page


Final Page 8-9 Spread


Final Page 13


Final Page 18


Final Page 28-29 Spread

Now, it’s time for you to make a storyboard! Here are some ideas to make your own storyboard:

You can use my template below (also refer to Tara’s picture book layout post). Remember the first empty square will be the title page, and the next square will be the copyright page- unless you want to put it on the last page.


(Click for larger version)

Some other ways to make your story board are to use sticky notes, index cards pinned up on a board, or even dry erase board. Remember, most picture books have 32 pages.

Now start drawing your action! Don’t worry if you don’t think you can draw. Just draw stick figures. If you aren’t the illustrator, you don’t need to be worried about the composition. This storyboard is for you only.

Ask these questions once you’ve drawn out your storyboard:

  • Is there enough action and visual interest happening in the story?
  • Is there a change of a scenery, or does everything happen in one location?
  • Is each part of the storyboard moving the story forward?

Remember to leave room in the text for illustrations. Take out visual descriptions that can be shown in the pictures. See where the pictures can carry the story!

If you are the author and not the illustration and there is something you want to show in the illustrations, you can write illustration notes. Illustration notes should only have the basics in them. Don’t include descriptions unless they are absolutely necessary to move the story along. Give the illustrator room to use his/her imagination and creative genius!

Drawing your picture book out in storyboard form can help you think of more ideas for a truly delightful picture book. Drawing out your story can even help you think of a subplot or unspoken characters that can only be shown in the pictures. Think of all the possibilities for your story when you start thinking visually!


Thank you, Shawna! Your debut picture book as both author and illustrator is chock-full of visual candy, even the cover with its reflective background—which is SO COOL. (I like shiny things. I played with the cover for at least a half hour, LOL.)

And blog readers, you can win a copy of BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY just by commenting below. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly selected in a few weeks. Good luck!

Shawna J.C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Her work can be found in many children’s books, magazines and games. BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY, Shawna’s first book as both author and illustrator, was published by Sky Pony Press. Shawna is also the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast, where she loves helping other authors and illustrators. Shawna lives in the beautiful state of Utah with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @shawnajctenney. Find more fun with Brunhilda and The Cat at

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