Writing Tips: Using Visual Inspiration For Your Stories

    Categories: Creativity

If you haven’t heard of a muse board, don’t worry, you are not alone. Today’s guest blogger, Jill Hedgecock, developed the time-saving tool and her older daughter named it.

At some point, every writer has probably paused and wondered what the hair color of their antagonist is or perhaps the shape of the nose of an ancillary character.

What if instead of searching through files looking for a character profile or rifling back through chapters, all you had to do was look up? That is the just one example of the brilliance of creating a muse board.

So what exactly is this marvelous time-saving tool?

A muse board is a visual aid designed to create mood, inform plot, assist in character development, and inspire descriptive prose.

Assemble Materials

A standard 36- by 48-inch tri-fold presentation display board is the format that I use because it mimics the proper text proportions of story structure: a beginning (25%), middle (50%), and end (25%). The size makes it transportable, yet large enough to give you a snapshot of the essential elements of an entire plot. You will also need:

  • photos and/or images of characters and setting (make sure they are not copyright protected)
  • colored cardstock

Colored-backgrounds for the images can help a writer find the proper plot pacing: (e.g., red for intense scenes, orange for tension-building moments and yellow to let your readers breathe). The thicker paper allows for the images to be easily moved around if you decide to restructure your scenes.

Other possible elements:

  • scented paper
  • reminder post-its
  • family genealogy
  • geographic maps
  • timelines
  • back cover text or taglines

Organize the Images

Whether you are a “pantser” (those who let the story unfold organically) or a “plotter” (those who prepare a detailed book outline), you can still benefit from the tool.

For the pantser, as your character or setting starts to develop, take a break from the keyboard and find images after the initial descriptions are established. Your board may very well be developed at the end of each writing day or even at the completion of a chapter.

For the plotter, go ahead and dive in and complete the whole muse board or maybe prepare it in stages for each panel.

Remember: The board can be changed at any time during book development. Peel off the image of a character that got axed in draft two or plaster a new image on top of it. Better yet, keep it on there and use it as a conversation starter at a book event.

Reap the Benefits

A muse board can make you a better writer. That’s a bold statement, so let me explain.

Besides avoiding the time-suck of making sure descriptive details are consistent throughout the book and fixing pacing (described above). Here are a few more advantages:

  • Got writer’s block? Study an image on your board write a paragraph on why you included it. Or write backstory around the picture. It doesn’t even need to be part of the book, but this short exercise may jump-start your work-in-process or possibly take your characters on a new and exciting plot twist.
  • Can’t find the right ending? Move images around. Chances are the answer is on the board, but maybe in the wrong spot.
  • Fix a one-dimensional character. With a muse board, you can treat them like paper dolls. Dress them in different clothes. Put their image on a horse? Are they afraid? Thrilled?
  • Do you stumble when it comes to conveying emotion? Images can provide visual descriptors. Where are the tears welling up in a photo of a young girl? What is she doing with her hand? (For example, I have a picture of an angry teen to remind me about how she feels about her father after she discovers his extra-marital affair.)
  • Does your plot occur in one place? Grab images of a park or a greyhound race track or a kid playing in a fountain. Can folding these settings into your story add depth?
  • Study your second and third muse board panels. You might find opportunities to foreshadow early in the book.
  • Do you see repetition in the photos? This may help you identify a key theme that hadn’t occurred to you.

A muse board is both a great attention grabber and a conversation starter. A muse board is a 4-foot visual feast that can be seen across a room. It can pique curiosity. In a few short moments, the visuals can tell your storyline more effectively than your elevator pitch.

[Images provided by Jill Hedgecock.]

Jill Hedgecock’s debut coming-of-age suspense novel, Rhino in the Room, was largely written with the aid of a muse board during the month of November as part of the National Novel Writing Month program.

She found new ways to improve her writing when using the muse board tool for latest novel due out in 2019, Between Shadow’s Eyes. To learn more, visit www.jillhedgecock.com. Connect with her on Twitter @JillHedgecock.

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View Comments (4)

  • What a great idea. I have a folder with lots of clippings in it and also a "codex" with back stories but a muse board would make everything more immediate and prompt different levels of writing. Thank you.

  • I don't have room for a board - but I do use a folder. And although I'm a pantser I fill a timeline in as dates are are reached, and a calendar to make sure future dates mentioned are achievable (as in two weeks time is going to fall on a Monday not a Wednesday), images close to how I 'see' my characters - this recently included an image of a horse owned by one character, maps, family trees, floor plans of homes etc. I even do a painting of how I would like the front cover to look.

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