I have said before that I am a Pantser, aka writing by the “seat of my pants.” I had fully embraced my approach to writing and creativity as a whole, however, in the last few years it has become apparent that Pantser doesn’t truly describe my overall process. I am now of the mindset that I am somewhere between a Pantser and Plotter, a Plantser if you will. This is fine with me considering my background as a Flower Shop Owner, and I like the thought of an idea “blooming where it is planted.” Corny I know, but I’ve learned to embrace that about myself as well in the last decade.
Today’s topic came to me after struggling with a Character’s identity in my current WIP. For anyone who doesn’t know, I am currently working on a mythology retelling series, which is my way of giving some of the characters from those stories a happily ever after even if history didn’t. I started out with Greek Mythology, and if you want to check them out, you can visit my series page here, however, that is not why we are here today. Today we are here to chat about Character Boards and why I use them.
Character Boards are something I have used from the start of my writing journey. In the beginning, I printed visuals and put them in a project binder, but when I got to book 3 in my Power of Four series, I realized I would quickly be running out of space to store them. They have now evolved into little more than a designated Pinterest Board for each WIP. But for this project, I hadn’t gone through the process of finding images for my hero. Because of that, I didn’t realize until 2 months into a dry spell with my writing exactly why I was stumped. Things turned a corner when I realized I needed a visual in my mind to create my hero. So here we are.
What are Character Boards?
Character Boards can be detailed, including specifics about your character including their occupation, what they look like, and even describing their personality and/or flaws. I highly recommend doing this if you are writing a series, as it can be easy to lose track of things such as eye colors, etc. You don’t want to get to your third book only to realize that you need to change the published copy of book two because you messed something up (speaking for a friend aka don’t ask).
I generally start out with a Word Doc, but you can use any program you are comfortable with that allows you to work with images and text. I start with an image and, in this case, I put in the heroine’s description of Aleck, from Winds of Change. What is nice about having a file like this is that you can add research along the way by way of a hyperlink, images, text, etc. I have also dabbled with Scrivener which does have tools that allow for you to do the same thing within the document, it is all a matter of what you are comfortable with.
Pinterest is another great tool for authors since it allows you to pin images to a board as you are researching your topic. I have pinned scene ideas, characters, spells or crystals they might use, etc. Can you fall down a rabbit hole of research? Why yes… yes you can. However, I find that is the most satisfying part of being a writer… the learning. If I could research for 40 hours a week instead of working a day job, I would be all over that. But I digress.
Why use Character Boards?
The most important reason to use character boards in my mind is consistency. I eluded to it earlier, but we may as well put it all out there. I had to go back after I was 3 books into my series and make substantial changes to both the timeline and the character descriptions. I will tell you it was not fun, and since I write Fantasy Romance and my books were each around 100,000 words, it was really, really, not fun. I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint of heart, and you will save yourself a HUGE headache by jotting a few notes down. That way, when you are 70,000 words into book 4 and can’t remember the eye color of the cyclops from book 1 that your hero just met, you are able to reference it. You can thank me later for both the tip and the book idea.
Another reason to use character boards is for inspiration. I was stumped and needed inspiration for this current WIP stat! In my Goddesses In Love series, the stories are shorter. My thought was that an overall board for the series would do it, but I was wrong. This particular hero evaded me. After a conversation with a fellow writer, I realized that I needed some visuals for my inspiration by way of some movies. After an epiphany at 4 o’clock this morning, I finally came up with my list. The sheet I created has images of 5 Hollywood actors in roles best suited for the direction my Muse is taking me in, and while I can’t share it here due to copyright, you can see my list of movies below and decipher my hero inspiration from there. Okay… well maybe a GIF… Oh, the pining!
Ideas for your own Boards!
As I mentioned above, I will be checking a list of movies to appease my Muse. She has been hangry, so I need to give her some fuel. For me, it isn’t just about how the actor/model looks, but how the character acts. What compels them? Why are they attracted to the heroine? That blends into another concept that I am just dipping my toe into now, one that has to do with Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. I realized after that conversation with a writer friend (I owe her more than I can repay), that was precisely what I was missing. This hero wasn’t just sitting around waiting for the heroine to fall into his life, he was interested in, and pursuing, something else that was important to him at the time. That will be what I look for in my movie choices, and I may very well decide that some of these characters aren’t a good fit, but that is the best part about creating the perfect hero… the writer can change his or her mind.
Reading is another great way to glean inspiration, although I wouldn’t suggest reading in the genre you are writing in while you are knee-deep in a project. But you can remember back to your favorite characters and write a list of why you liked them. What scenes are particularly interesting to you? What character traits can you pull from other types of fiction that could be interesting in your WIP? There are several tools to help with that, so along with my list of movies, I will give you some ideas for those below.
Lastly, you can let your fingers do the walking. A search engine is the fastest way to find what you are looking for, next to your local Librarian of course. If you find a site you want to research later, copy and paste the link on a Word Doc and move on. I find it is best to keep focused on what I went there to learn in the first place so I can get back to the business of writing. The other stuff can be food for the Muse later on.
Writing is a joy, but it is easy to get hung up on stuff while your brain works things out. My best piece of advice is to go easy on yourself if you hit a block and surround yourself with plenty of inspiration. You can’t write from a creative well if you aren’t inspired, so get out there! Take a walk, go to a museum, take in a concert, rent a movie, or read a book. But whatever you do, please be sure to have something to write on, since you never know when, or what time, your Muse will break loose!
For anyone interested in what I will be watching over the next week:
- Shakespeare In Love
- Lord Of The Rings
- The Illusionist
- What A Woman Wants
- I will also be taking in: The Lost City!
For books on craft that relate to this post:
- Goal, Motivation, and Conflict – The Building Blocks of Good Fiction – Debra Dixon http://www.debradixon.com/books/gmc.html
- The Emotion Thesaurus – A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
- The Negative Trait Thesaurus – A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
- The Positive Trait Thesaurus – A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi https://writershelpingwriters.net/thesaurus-collections/
Lastly, anyone interested in my journey can sign up for my newsletter here: https://bookhip.com/TWLTXJ. The link will direct you to Book Funnel where you can download a free copy of my Novelette – The Jinni’s Wish!
Hope this post finds you happy, healthy and inspired! Happy Writing! XO
1 thought on “Writer Toolbox: Character Boards”
Great post, Deb! I’d forgotten that I have a Pintrest page for characters. The nice thing is while you’re in the development of a project you can make the page private then open it when the book comes out for extra reader content.
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