Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Character boards: I'm crafty! (Or just good with scissors and tape)

A few months back, I read somewhere (I can't remember where) about some author (whose name I can't recall) (I'm just full of information tonight, aren't I?) who created poster boards for herself (see! I remembered one detail! The author was definitely a woman) when she was working on a book. The poster boards were full of imagery which reminded her of the book she was working on. For example, if she was working on a book set in Africa, she would pick up a few travel magazines, maybe a National Geographic, and fill up a huge poster board full of pictures of African animals, people, landscape, food, colors that reminded her of her book, etc. It's sort of like creating a song playlist for your book, but with pictures. (If anyone can remember who the heck I'm talking about or where I might have read this, please comment and let me know! I'm pretty sure it was in one of the blogs I

Anyway, this idea stuck with me, and when I finished my first draft, I decided I wanted to do something similar. You see, I have some complicated locations in my book. The government headquarters is five floors, and Kaia has to navigate her way around with a poorly drawn map. The city/nation/province (I haven't landed on the right word yet) she lives in is about the size of Rhode Island, and throughout the novel we see pretty much the whole thing. But since I totally made it up myself, it's not like I can Google "Where is the closest rail stop to Kaia's house?" or "Is the secret entrance to the government headquarters located on the North or South side of the building?" I knew I would need to draw maps eventually, and with the great idea by the writer whose name I can't remember, I thought it would be good to create character boards, too.

So, what are character boards? Basically, they're an excuse for me to put pictures of this guy up next to me while I write:

Well, hello there, Spanish model Aitor Mateo. 


I promise, it's totally legitimate. This guy is channeling Brax majorly. I can't help it that one of my main characters is really, really, ridiculously good-looking. 

Seriously though, what I'm doing for my character boards is this: I looked around the Internet for some pictures of people who looked like my characters. In some cases (like Mr. Mateo here *scrolls up to look again*), the people I found looked more or less exactly how I pictured my characters. A non-droolworthy (not to say she's not beautiful, but...have you SEEN the picture up there?) example is Famke Janssen, who looks exactly like how I picture Kaia's mom (even Aitor is not totally perfect for Brax and has a few other pictures next to him). In others, multiple pictures were required. For Kaia, no one is even remotely close, but I still want to try to capture her, so I've got a bunch of sample lips, eyes, hair, and general looks on the board.

Below the pictures, I write any important facts about the character or major adjectives that describe them. Then, as I'm going through and editing the draft, if I have questions about whether or not a character would act a certain way, all I have to do is consult my character board. Does what the character is saying/doing fit their description? If so, it stays. If not, it gets changed or cut. This also works great for when you're first describing a character. Look at all your pictures. If you've got a bunch of skinny girls picked out and taped to your character board, and all of them are probably B cups, but you have your character described as "busty," "voluptuous," or "buxom," then maybe there's a disconnect between your mind's eye and your words. 

I don't want to post pictures of my character boards, because frankly you'd probably laugh (although I'm sure one day when I'm super rich and famous they will be of great interest to everyone). So instead I'm going to create a small virtual character board for Kaia's mom. Nothing huge, but just so you get the idea. 

Kaia's Mom - m (to indicate she's a minor character)  

2 jobs - dishwasher/serving
opposite schedule from Kaia - never home together

married young 
strong, independent
coped well with death of husband
no family left aside from Kaia

very motherly but doesn't have time to notice as much as she should (she's an absent parent!)
etc., etc.

You get the idea. It was nice to take a few days to work with my hands, exercise a different part of my brain, but still get to know my characters and my world. But I started editing again two days ago, which I guess is almost as fun as looking up pictures of hot guys on the Internet...almost.


  1. Hmm sorry we didn't have what you were looking for at the FNC--but this is fantastic. I do it too. I have a few pics of "Ryan" from my book up on my desk right next to where I write for lots of writing inspiration. Bc my RYan is Irish I actually found someone Irish who was a dead ringer for him--this thrilled me to no end. I cant find my MC anywhere though. I see her as a 16 yr Rachel Weisz crossed with my baby sister.

    Anyway Happy New Year!!!!

  2. Darn. I only put the reference to FNC in there hoping that I had just missed it and you would say, "Duh, Heather, you are stupid. Here is the link." But obviously it was never on FNC in the first place, so I'll take that out. (Reason 465 why revisions are awesome!)

    Happy New Year back at you!

  3. I love to make character boards! I have all kinds of pictures of people and things that remind me of the characters, including words that relate to their personality. Tera Lynn Childs is one author I know that blogged about it- she's even got her boards from Oh My Gods posted on her website.

    Happy New Year and good luck with the book.

  4. This is exactly the approach I am taking as I frame up my novel treatment. In particular, I have one character who changes appearances throughout the novel so choosing different photos to match those stages is very useful in making that progression concrete.


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