Visual Tools #1: Mood Board & Character Attributes

Have you been staring at your blank screen and the reproachful blinking cursor? Despite having an idea bursting to become a short story or a book, you may be struggling to translate it into words. Let me suggest some visual tools to nurture your inspiration.

Writer’s Mood Board

mood board

Maybe you’re more familiar with mood boards as a visual tool when putting together an interior design scheme or you regularly use Pinterest. They’re a fun and effective way to spark ideas and keep you on track in your descriptions of characters and locations.

What do characters look like?

Find a picture which captures the essence of your central character. Perhaps he looks like Johnny Depp but his eyes are icy blue like Piers Brosnan: place some lovely blue eyes next to an image of J.D. This will assist you when describing character whenever he makes an appearance, how he moves, that his lip quirks when he smiles. It also helps you with consistency, to avoid giving someone green eyes at the outset and later referring to their dark brown orbs. Repeat this process for other ‘players’ in your story.

Where does it take place?

Again collect images – restaurant, a cottage by the sea, a beaten up old truck, a desolate, rocky region. Gathering pictures to depict these places will take you ‘there’ when you look at them and write. Authenticity will shine through in your descriptions allowing the reader to better visualise the setting. An added benefit occurs when you take a break from crafting your story. When you return, reviewing your mood board snaps you back in the zone a lot more accurately.

If you’re writing a novel rather than a short story, you may want to make more mood boards, or more elaborate versions. Your characters may have family, friends, pets, work colleagues to be considered, so create ‘sub-boards’. How deep you dive into this is entirely your call. Working through these questions will help complete the task.

Creating a Mood

Your collage of images should help to evoke the mood and emotions flavouring this piece of writing. Seek out pictures which portray terror, tranquility, passion or mischief. Whatever note you want running through your piece of fiction – find an image(s) which conveys that to you. Select it for your mood board.

Add 2-3 colours, these convey emotion. For example, a book cover is designed to imply the genre of story within: most vampire books have a theme of black with accents of red and white.

While creating this mood board, you are still thinking about composing your story, without pressuring yourself to write. The muse is a fickle creature and doesn’t usually perform well under pressure. Setting aside time to create a mood board gives your muse space to join up the dots before it’s challenged to help you write words. Any time you get stuck with your plot, gaze at your mood board. It’s likely to help you move forward with your writing.

Using Films, TV, Friends and Family

All but the most narcissistic person would be horrified to find themselves portrayed word for word in your fiction, but there’s no harm in stealing elements from family and friends to imbue your characters with real traits. Is your brother-in-law always quick with a witty response? Does your boss trail off in mid-sentence, assaulted with a new idea? Do you know a girl who pouts and preens, always putting herself first? I come from a rowdy, leg pulling family, so a lot of that emerges in my ‘close relationship’ dialogue.

Equally effective is ‘channelling’ a pop star, a character from a film/ show you’ve watched, or the attributes of an animal/ pet into the personality of a player in your story.

I recently needed to write about college age kids at a party. My own party days were decades ago. I took inspiration from actors in a YA show I’d watched. I could see how they interacted together and hear how they talked, bouncing insults off each other and flirting, which helped writing them into my scene. The feedback has been that readers could ‘see’ them too, proof that the authenticity of my visualisation transferred into my words.

Be like Miss Marple

Miss Marple [a fictional sleuth created by Agatha Christie] is famous for her ability to cross reference the personality and motivations of characters involved in murders with the inhabitants of her village, who she knows like the back of her hand. So shape the cheating wife like the boss who made your working life hell, base a romantic hero on a smouldering love interest from your twenties. You have a friend who doesn’t know she’s beautiful both inside and out – so immortalise her as the protagonist who kicks-ass in your tale. When you can visualise characters as you write, they will jump off the page for your readers.

Hear their Voice

A character’s voice is very important. How it sounds: deep, resonant, squeaky, breathy, with a stutter, sonorous, quiet, is something you ought consider. But place equal emphasis on how they say things. Do they have a catchphrase? Do they call everyone ‘love’ or ‘buster’? Perhaps they overuse people’s names or start every sentence the same way, e.g. “Here’s the thing.” These ‘verbal tags’ are really useful because such a distinctive tag eliminates the need for an attribution. Voice is another trait where shaping your character to the template of a real person makes it vivid.

Actor Bruce Willis, who reportedly had a stutter as a child, uses pauses in his delivery to centre him, so that his words come out right. Bridgerton fans may recall the Duke employing the same trick, which gives him the appearance of being deep, smouldering and intelligent.

Having considered how mood boards and visualising character attributes can help with writing inspiration, you may be interested to learn how music and an achilles heel can also help with writer’s block.

Part Two to Follow…

Header Images by Inga Seliverstova on Pexels

wicked wednesday mood board

6 thoughts on “Visual Tools #1: Mood Board & Character Attributes

  1. This seems like a good idea.

    One of the bloggers I read posted about her “idea journals” during the April A-to-Z this year. She doesn’t write fiction (that I know of) but I loved the stuffed-full pages of her journals, full of quite A and cutout pictures, scraps of fabulously textured paper, and self-drawn doodles. It’s a similar concept, being a source of (somewhat) visual inspirations that can be connect-the-dots for writing ideas. 🙂

  2. I love the idea of a mood board to keep you on track with characters, especially with those longer stories. Also I think it’s fabulous advice to ‘hear’ your character’s voice 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your tips, Posy!
    ~ Marie xox

  3. Great idea – u could keep the mood board close to where u write and add anything to it – a post-it note with a sudden idea and such like
    May xx

  4. Thank you for this Posy. As you say in the opening paragraph, I struggle to translate the images and stories I gmcreate in my head into a readable story. I tried motivational mood boards which didn’t hit the spot, but the way you suggest using them here is fantastic and I look forward to trying out your techniques.

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