Please note I have used a sci-fi space example through this, and used the pronoun he, this is just for ease of example. This might seem like a lot of work for something like a picture book, but research and development of characters will make the end product better.
ALSO- this is just MY way, based on ideas I’ve picked up doing research and attempting the process myself, it’s not the only way by any means. This is by no means a comprehensive "how to write well" tutorial, it's just an outline of the steps to take to build an environment and character based visual story.
For ALL of this, USE REFERENCES! Find examples, go look up what things look like, how they sound, how they behave, move etc, make yourself a saved folder of things you can go back and look at. Research before you start writing or drawing.
Step one: Decide who your audience is and what type of thing you are creating. The focus here is more on picture-books/ graphic novels, but I imagine some of the steps are the same for novels. Are you writing for children, young adult, 20+, NSFW, something else? what length are you aiming for? Is it a one shot or will it become the start of a series? (I REALLY recommend if this is the first time you’ve done anything like this, don’t be too ambitious, because it will get overwhelming - start small! You can always expand on the idea later.)
Step Two: Sum up your story in one sentence. Can’t do it? That’s ok, think of a genre that interests you - is it Sci-fi? Fantasy, Romance, Historical, Comedy, Drama, War, a mix of some of them, something else? Is your story bright and cheerful, dark and gritty, what kind of mood and tone are you trying to set? What story are you trying to tell, see if you can sum it up in a few words. Break it down as much as you can.
For my example: Sci-fi - Joe spaceman needs to save the space station from the monster alien space octopus.
Step Three: Setting Thumbnails - either in words or images what you’ve chosen as your theme. For example, if you’ve chosen Sci-fi, perhaps the entire story is set in space - find some imagery that conveys the feeling - is it all clean and bright and antiseptic, or is it broken, dirty, falling apart and dangerous? Set the scene for your story! You can choose a colour palette at this stage and do your thumbnails in colour - even if you are writing, describe what colours you see it as. Find what kind of feeling you are trying to convey.
Step Four: Build your characters environment. You have a setting, now create an environment in which to place your characters - Is Joe Spaceman a neat freak, or is he a slob, does his room have stuff piled up and spread everywhere, or is it all gleaming and polished, does he room with other people, what’s the rest of the spaceship like, is it cramped? Is he the type to hate being in small spaces - is he small or large, do his shoulders get stuck squeezing through airlocks.. Show or tell an environment that is going to explain your characters. Remember to do this for /each/ of your characters - generally you have, the main protagonist (person the story focuses around) they might have a sidekick - someone who they can talk to, and who often shows up their weaknesses and supports them. An Antagonist/ force of opposition - the person which hinders the protagonist getting where he needs to go. You can also have a love interest and a mentor, and as many ‘extras’ as you need - don’t get carried away with them though - you don’t need to flesh out characters who are just seen in the background.
Step Five: Build those characters, using what you’ve created environment wise, build some characters. Think about age, sex, height, build, clothing, habits, ways of talking/ dialect traits, do they slouch, how is their hair, are they dressed tidily or do they look like they slept in their clothing, what kind of equipment do they carry around? Make your characters unique. If you are drawing them out check that they have a unique silhouette, so they won’t be mistaken for your other characters. Try and list/ draw how they would react to certain situations - what are they afraid of, what drives them, how do they behave around other people, are they naturally cheerful or grumpy, make them as real as you can. If you are having trouble with this, have a look at people you know and see if they have any character traits or habits/ reactions you could borrow, don’t outright copy a person, but borrow from the real world until you’ve got something you can relate to and find believable.
Step Six: Plot: Now it’s time to try and build a basic plot, you have an outline, you know what your setting and environment are, you know who your characters are and how they will react, so now you need to find the major plot points. You can do this with writing or thumbnails, whatever works best for you (I like a mix of both)
1 - what is the problem that needs to be overcome
2 - What do the character do to try to solve the problem, how does this go wrong
3 - build the tension, throw in some more problems (send your main character to hell, aka, make them have to face their worst personal fear to 'win' the day)
4 - come up with a final plan
5 - overcome the problems, enact the plan, win! (they don’t have to /beat/ the antagonist, a win can be a compromise)
6 - wrap up the ending, make it satisfying.
Step Seven: Script it out: Now comes the part where you decide how the story will flow, how many pages will each of your plot points take up, how much will be shown with images and how much will be dialogue? Try and write your script in such a way someone else could read it (either because the more you explain it the better you will remember what you meant later on, or if you intend to pass it on to someone else to illustrate, they need to see what you see), be visual - draw or describe what you mean, don’t be afraid to storyboard it as well as write up a script, whatever works for you. If you are writing a graphic novel script and you are an author - be kind to the artist, tell them what style panels and what type of shots you envision - you can always negotiate for them to have a say in it, but make the process as easy for the artist as possible. It’s your job as the author to have good clean concise dialogue and clear instructions on what the characters are doing. If you are an artist and writing isn’t your thing, get someone to help with the dialogue etc.
Step Eight: PROOF READ! Cannot stress this enough, get someone to check for spelling and grammatical errors!
Step Nine: More Thumb-nailing: Take the script, and thumbnail the pages, know exactly how you want it to look - what colours you are using, where you are putting the text, get it ALL sorted before you commit to drawing anything. Authors - polish the script, make every word count, hand it to a friend and ask them if it’s clear enough, clean up any ambiguity.
Step Ten: Draw all the things! You should now be able to draw up your story - Authors, you should be able to pass a script/ story on to an artist.
Step Eleven: Almost finished - get it all proof read again, before you think about publishing it anywhere make sure that you haven’t managed to make any errors in the text.
Step Twelve: Congratulate yourself on a job well done.. And start thinking about the next one