A picture book is a combination of words and pictures, and both are equally important in conveying the overall message. Many writers forget the illustrators input and will describe every detail right down to every characters emotions and the colour of every object. Obviously these details are important to the story, but you don't need to write, 'George was angry and wore a red hat,' because the illustrator can illustrate those details.
Picture books are usually 32 pages long; 14 double page spreads with title, credits, and end pages remaining. So, to write a story over 14 double pages, keeping in mind the elements of characterisation, colour, space, movement, perspective, style, pace, and composition, requires a lot of detailed planning. This is why storyboarding is an essential part of writing a picture book.
You don't have to be an illustrator to create a storyboard. It's important also for the writer to gauge the rhythm, story arc, and balance. Imagine if the resolution was at the beginning, then the story has no where to go. There is no story! The same elements remain in picture books as in any story, but you only have 14 spreads and 300 to 1,000 words to write with.
Storyboarding helps to pace the story like a film or play in acts and scenes.
There are three acts to a picture book.
Act 1: Introduces the main character (protagonist) and sets up a problem.
Act 2: Shows the journey to solve the problem, including obstacles.
Act 3: Resolves the problem or conflict to a happy and satisfying ending.
Act 1 and Act 3 are usually identical in length.
Following this basic pattern will help balance the narrative. Every reader wants to see their protagonist changed in some way. This is why a problem is introduced in Act 2. If you wrote a story about a perfect child, on a perfect day, in a perfect world, than it would be incredibly boring. There is nothing more exciting then trouble, fear, worry, being naughty, jealousy, growing up, friendship, and conquering something.
To create a storyboard and 'think in pictures,' helps writers to avoid excessive wordiness. Play your picture book in your mind just like watching a movie.
Can you take out any words that aren't necessary? Have you repeated yourself? Can you move two or three scenes into one? Have you left enough space to allow children to think for themselves? Is there enough action? Are the characters interesting? Have you achieved your writing objective? Have you created an exciting story for your target age? Have you created enough space for the illustrators personal style and contribution?
Looking at all of these elements has changed the way I write picture books. I still write freely and let the story develop on it's own. The manuscript I'm writing at the moment, I've drafted approximately ten times. I have a rough idea of the double page spreads, but I'll wait till I feel its better before storyboarding. I've worked out that the first act doesn't need so much set up, so I've scrapped that entirely and started already in the action with that event already have happened.
It can be a challenging process but it's so worth it! I wouldn't still be writing if I didn't love it. I'm sure all writer's feel the same. It is such an accomplishment to get the manuscript you've been working on to a stage where it's not just good... but great!