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Wednesday 21 October 2020

Guest Post: Brenda Gurr on Creating Character Mood Boards

Are you a frustrated creative writer who struggles to create compelling characters? 

I completely understand! Three-dimensional characters who leap off the page are so tough to conjure up but are vital to every story. 

You need to know them inside out and back-to-front before you can commit them to the page. The standard method to create book characters is to write a profile, in which you list all their unique attributes, from their hair colour to their favourite childhood memories. 

You can also add a photo clipped from a magazine or found on the internet that approximates what your character looks like in your mind. A variation on this is the character interview, where you ask your characters questions about their lives and answer in their voices. 

These methods are supremely useful and, I think, necessary to help you understand the beings that populate your manuscripts. 

But whenever I used to finish one of these, I would feel a bit flat. So would the characters I was trying to create. Something was missing… that vital spark, that way into really getting my characters to LIVE.

Then, one day, while cleaning out my garage, I stumbled across an old book I’d bought many years ago. It was about the making of the 1990s television series Pride and Prejudice (starring Colin Firth, whose presence may or may not have influenced my purchase of the book). There were a few pages of information contributed by the costume designer, who made mood boards (literally large pin-up boards) to help her decide on the wardrobe for each main character in the production. On the board, she had images of people from the time of Jane Austen, along with fabric swatches of different colours and textures that seemed to suit each character. The designer reported that this technique inspired her and created a strong visual reference for her designs.

This appealed to me greatly, and I wondered: Could this idea work for strengthening the characters that are floating around, half-formed, in my imagination?

I decided to try it out on a female character I was struggling with, using Pinterest as a digital pin-up board (but you could also use an actual pin-up board or a child’s scrap book). I used simple search terms to find clothing, fabrics, people, vehicles, settings and props that seemed to suggest her personality, style and energy. I wasn’t at all sure it was working—I began to suspect that I might just be accumulating a mess of unrelated pictures. But I kept going without pausing to look at what I was collecting. 

Eventually, I had a few dozen different images. At that point I stopped, took a deep breath and peeked at the whole collection. I was actually amazed at what I’d chosen with minimal left-brained thought. For example, the women I’d selected had similar hairstyles, postures and facial expressions, the fabric swatches were bold but classy, and the colours of all the images were generally rosy and golden shades. I stared at it all and really felt like I’d found what I’d been lacking. I started to write about my character with inspired freshness and excitement.

So, mood boards work for me… maybe you can try them too.

Brenda Gurr is the author of The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes series. Book Two, The Tumbling Tortoises is out now!

Brenda works as a freelance writer and editor from her home in beautiful country Victoria, where she lives with her family and two attention-seeking Burmese cats named Bingley and Bess.

When she’s not writing, she can be found playing the cello. Not as well as she would like…

Discover more about Brenda at her website: brendagurr.com

Publisher website: newfrontier.com.au

Instagram: @brenda.gurr.author

Twitter: @brenda_gurr