Recently I listened to a podcast that mentioned mood boards. I’ve heard of the idea, of course, but never in the way that author Jenny Han explained them as a guest on This Creative Life.
I was intrigued by her ideas and wanted to know more.
When I did a Google search, I learned that mood boards are popular for interior design, graphic design, gardens, weddings, book covers, and so many other things. Since QFT is devoted to writers and artists and the creative ways we look at life, it sounded like an idea worth exploring!
There are a lot of ways to create mood boards. They can be done the old fashioned way, like a middle-school collage made with poster board and a glue stick. Or, I think Pinterest does this really well for some people. I’ve saved an interesting image or two in a secret writing folder, but I’ve never tried a specific board for an entire book.
Pinterest is amazing, but it can also be a rabbit hole and any time I go on there for one thing, I’m distracted by all the pretty home décor and games I can play with my kids and parties I can throw. For me, Pinterest isn’t a great tool when I’m supposed to be focusing. I also think there are benefits to having a board that you can see hanging in your office or access without an Internet connection.
I dug around the web, and there are some great posts for getting started. Here are two that I found helpful. I’ve included the main points, but you should check them out for pictures and greater detail.
This one looks at different ways specific mood boards can be used for writing (or any other creative pursuit):
- Make a board for each character in the story
- Focus on the setting
- Ignite a general story idea
These ideas can be used as a whole, or within individual mood boards for each theme/topic/element.
And this post looks at how mood boards can boost your writing productivity:
- Use it to set the mood
- Get into the heads of your readers
- Look for tension and conflict
One of Jenny Han’s main points on the podcast was how she uses boards to determine the tone of her novels. I know some people do this with music. Personally, I love the idea of having a visual reminder of the tone, but you could definitely add lyrics to your mood board or whatever else works for you.
As far as characters, I have a writer friend (hi Sabrina!) who chooses not only an actor to represent each of her characters, but an exact character that inspires her. Her example was, “He isn’t James Spader—he’s James Spader as Raymond Reddington from The Blacklist.” I think being that specific can really help to know how your own characters will act in certain situations, adding to the overall mood. So, slap a picture of Raymond Reddington onto your mood board for added inspiration.
A few other reasons you might want to use a mood board:
- World building—much more than just creating a setting, mood boards can help build a world from scratch, especially for something like steampunk or science fiction that might combine eclectic elements from different genres.
- If you’re writing historical fiction, you can use it to keep costumes, settings, buildings, etc. in front of you.
- Use it to create a timeline/chronology of events through pictures, etc.
- Elicit writer emotion/delve into the subconscious–play around with pictures that draw you in, and find out if there are themes that interest you.
Especially as emerging creative-types, I think mood boards can be a fantastic tool for writer’s block or motivation. And I love the idea that playing around with different media–pictures, music, videos, poetry, quotes, whatever–can be the springboard you need to get that story going.
So, I made a quick one for the project I’m working on.
Can you guess what it’s about?
I think mood boards probably work better when you’re starting out than when you’re almost finished with a project, but it did give me some ideas for revisions and left me with a sense that my novel is probably a little weirder and more disturbing than I had noticed while writing it. At the very least, I’ve been convinced that I should try working with mood boards as I start my next project.
What do you think about mood boards? In what ways do you use them for your creative processes?