I am a visual person and I find that using this type of cue enhances my writing. For instance, if I want to write about a place I haven’t visited, I find pictures, movies or videos about that place and use them to ‘learn’ that location.
One of the best visual aids I’ve used when putting a story together is a character board. I’ve always believed that before you sit down and type Chapter One you should have a firm grip on who your characters are and using character boards is an easy and effective way of doing this.
Creating a character board is simple – start by grabbing a stack of magazines and page through them, looking for your characters. “Ah yes, that blonde in the toothpaste ad is perfect for Suzie Jones. And that mutt chowing down on Purina is just the right sidekick for my hero, Joe.”
Clip out pictures of anything that relates to your characters – whether pictures of people, the cars they drive, the homes they live in, the bistros they frequent or the brand of poison they drink. You don’t need to stop at pictures either, you can add ticket stubs, a favorite poem or quote, a piece of hair ribbon, whatever you feel represents the life and experiences of your characters.
Once you have collected the pictures, mementos and items you want to use, sort them by character. You might find you have too much for some characters and not enough for others but don’t worry, the board, like your story will evolve over time. You can add, change, or completely overhaul it whenever you feel the need.
Putting it Together
These are the general steps I follow:
- On a large piece of poster board or bulletin board, plot out a section for each character.
- At the top of each section, write the character’s name on a piece of paper and use that as a heading.
- Assemble the pictures and items in a way that communicates your character to you, attaching them either with glue, tape or push pins.
- If a character has a long lifespan in your story, use pictures and items that show her progressing in age and how her likes and dislikes change throughout her life.
- Continue this process until you’ve got all your characters added and the entire board done.
If you have several major characters in your story, you may need two boards or one very large one—it’s your choice. Make it as sparse or detailed as you like, it’s your character board, and the cues are for you and you alone to inspire your story and your characters.
Does it Work?
When you have finished, step back and look at your character board and ask yourself:
- Is it a good representation of your characters?
- Does it give you good visual cues that will facilitate your story and character development?
- Does it make you smile because your characters now feel more alive, more real to you?
If the answer is yes, then you’re done. If not, rework the board until it feels right to you.
Hang your completed character board over your desk or in a prominent place in your writing space where you can easily see it, while writing. Not only will it help you keep your characters firmly in your mind, but it will also inspire you to continue writing their story and keep your characters on board.
How about you? Do you have a technique that you use to make your characters more real? Share it in the comments.