Storyboarding is an essential part of the creative copywriter’s process; every commercial I ever wrote first came to life as a storyboard.

But don’t think the storyboard’s utility is limited to video. Even if you don’t make movies, a storyboard can quickly become an essential tool when developing animated ads, web site sliders, podcasts, video and other “rich” media.

Storyboards - a Copywriter's Best Friend?

All require planning.

All involve movement, time, a sequence, and graphics, type or sound elements.

And all benefit from the application of a simple storyboard.

For example, on a recent Web project, I used a simple storyboard to plan the order & content of the site’s home-page sliders.

I was happy I did.

Originally, the concept in my head seemed lucid and logical. But getting it on paper made it clear my “lucid” idea was muddled and out of order.

Score one for storyboarding.

Storyboards: Care & Feeding

Storyboarding doesn’t require a lot of instruction; it’s about as intuitive as it gets.

You simply use the solid-line boxes to represent the visual elements, and add directions in the box below.

Those directions can include:

  • Copy
  • Transitions (like “fade to black”)
  • Voiceover directions
  • Music
  • Visual ideas
  • Actor’s direction
  • Whatever the heck you want

A Few Helpful Hints

Don’t overthink the details on your first pass.

Getting your concept down on paper – in broad strokes – is more important than sewing up every detail.

And you’ll be amazed at the number of times you realize – after storyboarding your drop-dead solid idea – that you’ve gotten it all wrong.

Also, some folks – who feel they can’t draw – won’t attempt a storyboard.

Which is a huge mistake.

A storyboard’s screen is not the place for a detailed drawing (unless you’re making a movie).

Use an oval to represent a face. A square to represent a book. In other words, use symbols.

You need a visual representation of any graphic element, but mostly to offer a reality check on size, movement, etc.

In other words, if you’re using a human face to convey an emotion, that face better be big enough to “read.”

In the same vein, storyboarding an animated 125 x 125 banner ad could make it clear you’ve got too much happening in too little space.

Finally, don’t be hemmed in by your storyboard. It’s a rare concept that can’t be improved by more thought, so don’t narrow your vision simply because you’re working within little square boundaries.

In other words, live a little (creatively speaking).

Templates? Did Someone Say Template?

In the past, I used a storyboard I created in a graphics program – complete with rounded corners on the screen – but found it too specialized for today’s online work.

And happily, I stumbled across one I like better. (Visit this site for other storyboard options.)

A simple storyboard template

(click to visit the download site)

It’s nothing fancy – it represents the storyboard stripped to its bare essentials – but it’s the perfect all-around storyboard for the all-around copywriter.

A Word of Warning

You might be tempted to storyboard on your computer.

Don’t do it.

At least not on your first draft.

You’ll find yourself contaminating your “big think” time with details.

Get the concept roughed out using broad strokes, refine it – and only then move to a computer storyboard.

I’ve used computer generated storyboards in the past, but in the client pitch stage, where the time invested finding photographs or drawings (and the readability of computer-set type) really pay off.

An Old Tool For New Media

Given the “rich” nature of today’s media channels, a storyboard could easily become one of the modern copywriter’s most useful tools.

Download it, save it, print it and use it whenever you’re working on a sequential, moving project.

It will help you get your head into the game. And your concept in order.

Keep storyboarding, Tom Chandler.