5 Tips to Boost Storytelling in Graphic Novels
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Make characters relatable
  2. Use colors to create mood
  3. Show, don't tell
  4. Experiment with panel layouts
  5. Incorporate silence

Graphic novels are a blend of art and narrative, a visual feast that tells a story. One of the most compelling aspects of this medium is its ability to communicate complex ideas and emotions through images, colors, and carefully chosen words. But, creating a captivating graphic novel isn't just about drawing pretty pictures. It's about telling a story that resonates with readers. If you're wondering how to improve storytelling in your graphic novel, you're in the right place. Here are five practical, yet powerful tips to boost your storytelling skills in the realm of graphic novels.

Make Characters Relatable

First and foremost, it's all about the characters. Readers need to connect with your characters to fully engage with your story. Let's explore some ways to make your characters more relatable.

Develop Character Backgrounds

Every character has a backstory. Maybe your hero was a former soldier who's now a baker, or your villain was once a beloved teacher. Whatever it is, it shapes who they are and how they act. Consider these when developing your characters:

  • Origins: Where do they come from? What's their family like?
  • Experiences: What have they been through? How did those experiences shape them?
  • Goals: What do they want more than anything? What are they willing to do to achieve it?

Give Characters Flaws

Nobody's perfect — and that includes your characters. A character without flaws is unrealistic and hard for readers to connect with. So, don't be afraid to give your characters some imperfections. It could be something as simple as being a bit clumsy, or more complex like struggling to trust others. Remember:

  1. Flaws should impact the story: If a character's flaw never comes into play, it's not much of a flaw. Make sure it influences their decisions and the plot.
  2. Flaws should be relatable: Your readers should be able to understand and empathize with your character's flaws. This helps to create a deeper connection between the character and the reader.

Show Growth and Change

Characters aren't static. They grow, learn, and change — just like real people. As your story progresses, your characters should evolve in response to the events and challenges they face. Here's how to do it:

  • Challenge your characters: Put your characters in situations that force them to confront their flaws and grow.
  • Show the effects of growth: As your characters change, show how those changes impact their actions and relationships.

By making your characters relatable, you're taking a big step towards improving storytelling in your graphic novel. They are the heart of your story, and if your readers care about them, they'll be hooked on your narrative.

Use Colors to Create Mood

Colors aren't just there to make your pages look pretty. They're a powerful storytelling tool that can be used to manipulate mood and guide readers' feelings. Let's dive into how you can use colors to enhance your graphic novel storytelling.

Understand Color Psychology

Colors can evoke powerful emotions. For instance, red might symbolize anger or passion, while blue could evoke feelings of calm or sadness. Here are some things to remember when using color psychology:

  • Consistency: Once you've assigned a mood or emotion to a color, remain consistent throughout your novel. This helps readers make a subconscious connection between color and emotion.
  • Context: Consider the context of the scene. A bright yellow might symbolize happiness in one context, but caution or fear in another.

Use Color Contrasts

Color contrasts can be used to draw attention to specific elements or to create tension in a scene. Keep these points in mind:

  1. Highlight important elements: Use contrasting colors to make important elements stand out. If everything else in a panel is cool blues and greens, a splash of red will immediately grab the reader's attention.
  2. Create tension: Contrasting colors can also symbolize conflict or tension between characters or elements within your scene. It's an effective way to visually represent underlying story themes.

Consider Color Schemes

Having a cohesive color scheme can help set the tone for your entire graphic novel. Here's how:

  • Establish mood: A dark color scheme might set a somber or serious tone, while a bright, vibrant scheme could suggest a more lighthearted story.
  • Unify your work: A consistent color scheme can also give your work a unified, professional look, making it more visually appealing to readers.

By understanding and utilizing the power of colors, you're not just enhancing your art, you're elevating your storytelling. Remember, in a graphic novel, every color choice is an opportunity to deepen your narrative and connect with your readers on an emotional level.

Show, Don't Tell

When we talk about 'showing, not telling' in graphic novels, it's all about using visuals to convey your story instead of relying heavily on words. This can make your storytelling more immersive and engaging. Let's see how this can be done.

Use Visual Metaphors

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in graphic novels, it's your primary language. Visual metaphors can be a powerful way to convey complex ideas or emotions. Here's what you need to know:

  • Match the metaphor to the mood: If a character is feeling trapped, you could show them in a small, confining space. This reinforces their emotional state without you having to spell it out.
  • Use symbols: Symbols can be a great way to hint at things without outright saying them. A wilting flower, for example, could symbolize a loss of hope or innocence.

Express Emotion Through Art

Characters' emotions can be effectively communicated through their facial expressions, body language, and even their surroundings. Here are a couple of ways to do this:

  1. Focus on facial expressions: A character's face can tell a lot about what they're feeling. A slight change in their eyes or mouth can convey a range of emotions.
  2. Utilize body language: Body language is another powerful tool for showing emotion. A hunched posture might suggest defeat or sadness, while a character standing tall could suggest confidence or defiance.

Let The Art Drive The Story

Instead of using dialogue or narration to move your story forward, let your art do the storytelling. Here's how:

  • Use action: A sequence of actions can tell a story just as effectively as words. The way a character moves or interacts with their environment can reveal a lot about them and their journey.
  • Use details: Small details in your panels can add depth to your story. For example, a picture of a family on a character's desk can suggest a longing for home or a connection to their past.

Remember, in a graphic novel, your art is your voice. By showing instead of telling, you allow your readers to engage more deeply with your story, making it a more rewarding experience for them.

Experiment With Panel Layouts

Panel layouts are the backbone of your graphic novel. They guide the reader's eye through the story. Experimenting with different layouts can provide a fresh perspective and add dynamism to your storytelling. Let's take a closer look at some strategies.

Play With Panel Shapes and Sizes

Breaking away from the traditional rectangular panel can add a layer of excitement to your graphic novel. Here are a couple of things you can try:

  • Use larger panels for important scenes: A larger panel can help emphasize a key plot point or emotional moment. It gives the scene more space to breathe and the reader more time to absorb it.
  • Try different shapes: Panels don't always have to be square or rectangular. Circular panels, for example, can help focus the reader's attention on a specific element or character.

Change Panel Order

The sequence of your panels can greatly influence the flow of your story. Here's how to use it to your advantage:

  1. Create tension with nonlinear layouts: By arranging panels out of chronological order, you can create a sense of suspense or confusion that mirrors the characters' emotions.
  2. Use zigzag patterns for action scenes: A zigzag layout can help convey the chaotic nature of an action sequence, making it more engaging for the reader.

Use Borders Effectively

Borders can do more than just separate panels. They can also be used to enhance your storytelling. Here's how:

  • Break borders for dramatic effect: Characters or elements breaking through panel borders can create a dynamic, impactful effect, highlighting moments of intense action or emotion.
  • Remove borders for dream sequences: Borderless panels can give a 'floating' feel, ideal for dream sequences or flashbacks, adding a layer of unreality to the scenes.

Remember, panel layouts are not just containers for your art—they're a powerful storytelling tool. By experimenting with them, you can add depth, energy, and creativity to your graphic novel.

Incorporate Silence

Silence in a graphic novel? It may sound counterintuitive, but incorporating silence is a powerful way to enhance storytelling. Often, the absence of sound or dialogue can speak louder than words. Let's explore how to do this effectively.

Use Silent Panels

Silent panels—those without dialogue or sound effects—can be incredibly impactful. Here are a few ways you can use them:

  • Highlight emotional moments: A silent panel can allow readers to fully soak in an emotional moment. Whether it's a character's reaction to a big reveal or a peaceful scene of nature, silence can make it more poignant.
  • Build tension: The absence of sound can create an unsettling feeling, perfect for building suspense. Imagine a character silently creeping through a dark room—it adds a sense of dread, doesn't it?

Use White Space

White space, or negative space, can be a form of silence too. It's not just about what you show—it's about what you don't show. Here's how you can use white space:

  1. Create a pause: A panel with a lot of white space can make the reader pause. It's like a visual breath, a moment to absorb what just happened.
  2. Focus on a single element: By surrounding an object or character with white space, you can draw the reader's attention directly to it. It's an elegant way to highlight something important.

Minimal Dialogue

Another way to incorporate silence is by using minimal dialogue. This can be powerful in the right context. Here's how:

  • Show, don't tell: Instead of having characters explain everything, let your visuals do the storytelling. A well-drawn expression can convey more than a page of dialogue.
  • Let actions speak: Actions can often convey a character's feelings or intentions better than words. Show your characters doing things, rather than just talking about them.

Remember, silence is not just the absence of noise—it's a storytelling tool. Used wisely, it can add depth and emotion to your graphic novel, making it a more immersive experience for your readers.

If you enjoyed these tips for boosting storytelling in graphic novels and want to learn more about the art of storytelling through illustration, don't miss Mirelle Ortega's workshop, 'Storytelling In Illustration.' This workshop will teach you how to create captivating narratives within your illustrations and enhance the storytelling power of your graphic novels.