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Writing Photo-Stories

Panels from a photostory
Stolen from Viz.

Many teen magazines carry photo-stories, usually on themes of romance or friendship. If you’re thinking of writing a photo-story you probably have a particular magazine in mind, in this case you’ll know the types of stories they want and how long they should be. As a first step contact the magazine in question and see if they’re interested in receiving ideas.

Tips for writing photo-stories

Keep it short

Remember that your biggest problem is space. All your dialogue has to fit into speech and/or thought bubbles, so keep it short or there won’t be room for the picture. As a rule try to limit yourself to no more than thirty words of dialogue in a frame.

Dont crowd

When you’re designing a story frame (i.e. an individual picture) remember that the photographer will have to leave empty space for the addition of speech and/or thought bubbles. Avoid having more than two characters speaking or thinking in a frame, even if they’re not saying very much. Any more than this and it might be difficult to squeeze in all the bubbles you need. A rough drawing might help you judge how much space you’re likely to require.

Set the scene

As well as speech and thought bubbles, photo-stories also use ‘panels’. These are blocks of text in the top left-hand corner of the frame that introduce a location (‘At Karen’s house…’) or signal a time-break (‘Later…’). If there’s a significant change in location or jump in time you should use a panel to inform the reader.

How to layout the script for a photo-story

Exactly how you lay out your script isn’t important as long as everything is clearly presented, but do the following:

  • Give your story a title (preferably a short and memorable one).

  • Use a horizontal line to divide one frame’s text from another.

  • Number each frame.

  • Start each frame with a brief description of location, time, characters and action.

  • Where possible help identify roles/locations by making suggestions for visual clues (clothing, uniforms, signs etc).

  • Make sure you identify which dialogue is being spoken and which is being thought.

For example:


Frame 1. It’s morning. Laura and Sue are walking along a suburban road on their way to school. They are both in uniform and carrying school bags. Laura is also carrying a hamster cage full of animal bedding.

Panel: Monday morning…

Sue: How did you enjoy looking after the school hamster over the weekend?

Laura: It was great…

Laura: (Thinks)…Oh no. How am I going to tell Miss Carter I lost it!


Frame 2. A schoolroom. Laura and Sue are speaking to a biology teacher (Miss Carter) wearing a white lab-coat. The hamster cage is standing on a table.

Panel: Later in class…

Miss Carter: Thanks for looking after Sparky, Laura. Was he any trouble?

Laura: No, Miss. You wouldn’t even know he was there (Gulp).


Should I submit illustrations?

Some photo-story writers present their ideas as illustrated storyboards, but unless you’re a good artist you’d be better off developing the story rather than trying to portray it in sketches. As long as your script clearly describes the action a photographer and art director should have no trouble in deciphering it.

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