The mind’s eye can be a wonderful thing. Through it, thousands of words become glorious landscapes and sweeping vistas and the darkest caves. We witness through our imagination the rise of kings and the fall of dictators, honorable battles, and mischievous deeds. We can see the glow of first love, the tears of new loss, and the grief of repeated failures. It’s a wonderful thing being able to take the words you read and be able to craft together the images that an author has lovingly formed for you to see.
But what does the author do when they are having a difficult time seeing what they are trying to build out of thin air? What does the author do when they’ve crafted a persona, a character, his hopes and dreams, and yet haven’t instilled the beating heart that would bring their vision to life?
There are many authors who base their characters on flesh and blood, people they’ve crossed in the street and the coffee shops, people who’ve fulfilled their lives and crowded at their minds. Maybe a lover, the scent of them when they hold them in their arms, the way their eyes sparkle when they laugh. Some authors turn the negative influences in their lives into villains and crooks and cruel mistresses. Sometimes you can feel the venom that flowed through the words as they acknowledged the hatred they felt.
And there are those writers who meticulous travel from place to place, seeking the visual space that will cause the words to flow from pens and keys. They seek the open road and the highest peaks. They enclose themselves in that cabin in the woods, to breathe the mountain air and to witness the absolute darkness that accompanies the night time.
And all of this is an inspiration.
It’s inspiration sometimes to even speak with an author or attend a conference or lecture where they reveal where exactly they pulled the elements they needed to persevere in their work.
But we live now in a digital age, and rather than closing us in and leaving us in the blue glow of our screens, it has opened up valuable opportunities for authors. At a click of a mouse and the touch of a button, we have thousands of images of temples in China, of rainforests in the Amazon, and the frigid wastelands of Antarctica. Authors can study maps, aerial views, and roadside views. They can follow the escape route of their hero, they can see where they’d like them to live. Real estate listings, images of staircases, detailed descriptions of the effects of various injuries and poisons are there, everything you could ever need. At the touch of the button.
Lately, there’s been a cross section of authors that have been using this access to an endless arrangement of visual stimuli in order to help themselves write and to help their fans to see what inspiration forced them to put to paper. These authors have been generating “mood boards”, a collection of images, scraps of elements and colours and scenes that alone would only earn a passing glance, but when built together, give an overall taste of a character or book.
Mood boards can breathe life and scents and sounds into a work that may have been there before, but hadn’t quite sprung into focus. The number of times when I’ve been following an author’s project, read along with their hopes and dreams and blog posts, absorbed their snippets and excerpts with a voracious passion, to find that a mood board when posted, rises above all else.
I’ve yet to see one that hasn’t blown me away, that hasn’t drawn me deeper into the project and wanting so badly to see the finished result. And I believe that there’s one very important truth that guides mood boards into being as influential as they are.
Each and every image involved in a mood board, which at the very least I’ve seen, is nine, (odd numbers, odd numbers always!) Has been individually plucked from the obscurity of billions of images, weighed, measured, cropped, polished, and placed, because it speaks to the author. They have compared it to hundreds or thousands of others, they’ve analyzed how it made them feel, if the lighting and colours are the answer to the words they’ve written. They’ve discarded hundreds of others. Then they pulled all these precious jewels together and laid them out for the readers to see, the casual passersby, as we scroll endlessly through the internet and social media accounts.
Beautifully eye-catching, they immediately draw in the viewer the way words can’t always do. The most beautifully captured prose can be buried amongst the rest of the avalanche of words that bombard us every day. And not only do they draw a person in, they present them with a puzzle. An assortment of images that to the stranger of the project, have no relation. But they stir the questions within their mind. How are they related? That stranger’s neck graced with pearls, those rocky cliffs, that glint of the dagger. Is it hers? Is it the tool of her demise? Does she live above those cliffs? Does she perish in those waves? What if? How? And that is when you have that moment, those few precious seconds, and you absolutely need to know.
Maybe the reader subscribes to your blog or your feed, maybe they follow your account.
Maybe they share with their friends.
The possibilities are endless when you have captured their imagination with the ‘what ifs’.
Personally, in addition to all of this, I find the crafting of mood boards to be vaguely hypnotic. I like to create them when I am nearing completion of a project. I try to feature the smallest details of a character and their behavior or psyche so that anyone coming upon them will wonder just why an image was included. It can take quite a bit of time to find the exact piece of clothing you know that they treasure, a close up of their hands on something that they love. It’s a force to be reckoned with, this vision, so specific that it sometimes feels as if you forced a photo into existence by sheer will.
My most recent project, When Shadows Creep, has inspired a number of mood boards in that I’ve wanted to create one for each character. I want to be able to push together all of the little things that make the greater whole of them, and hopefully generate an interest in the words behind the pictures. I haven’t created mood boards for all of the characters yet. Some of them speak louder to me than others, too lively and colourful to be contained. I even crafted one for the book itself, a series of images that got me through editing and kept me in the mind space I needed to remain in in order to keep the tone throughout the novel.
Authors and readers alike can benefit from mood boards. It helps those who are creating in their hearts and minds the worlds that you’ve strung together with only words. It can inspire a browser to pick up your book, it can inspire an author to finally finish theirs.
It brings a cohesion to your vision, and it can cast spells over the stranger.
And if anyone were to ever build their own mood board based on something I had written?
I’d be eternally grateful, because then I would have a lens with which to see how they see my work through their own eyes.
K.Brooks is an author out of Ontario, Canada. She’s written three novels, one currently available and two others are in the editing process. She works in advertising and is always influenced by the weather when it comes to finding inspiration for her work. She often embarks on aimless road trips and alone time with the wilderness.
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