Creating a mood board is one of my favorite parts of developing a story. It helps me connect with it on a deeper level by bringing it to life through visuals for an extra sensory experience.
When you’re writing, your tools to bring the story to life on the page are your verbiage and what you choose to focus on so that it plays like a movie in the reader’s mind. Putting together a mood board that is essentially a snapshot of your story in physical form is a great way to attain a richer understanding of the feel of your story so you can translate that into writing. And as a bonus, it can get you (and your readers) even more excited about it!
The goal is to capture the overall vibe of your story through visuals. What would it look like if it were a movie? Not only will your mood board help you connect more to your story, but it will also help potential readers connect to it. A mood board can pique their interest by giving them a taste of what to expect at a glance, which can inspire them to want to learn more about it.
In this post, you’ll find tips on how to create a story mood board that will enhance your connection to the story and entice readers. I’ve also created a free printable worksheet you can use to keep notes on all of the things I go over in this post that will help you curate the perfect imagery for your mood board. Head over to my free resource library to grab a copy!
How to Create a Story Mood Board
Decide on the Aesthetic
First, take some time to explore what aesthetic best captures the overall vibe of your story. You may already have a strong idea of how your story translates into visuals but it’s okay if you don’t. You can take some time to explore it.
Aesthetic is made up of a certain color scheme, style, and mood. With this in mind, get inspired by other works that are similar to the feel of your own story. Think about movies, TV shows, photography, artwork, and even Instagram accounts that have a similar mood and tone. Some people actually create mood boards for characters and stories they love just for fun, so you can search through those to get some ideas, too. (You can find them on Pinterest and Tumblr by searching for things like “character mood board” and “character aesthetic.”)
Next, think about some words that describe your story. Is it dark? Moody? Uplifting? Warm? Whimsical? Satirical? Make a list of every word that describes the vibe of your story. Then, use those as a jumping-off point for the aesthetic. What colors and imagery reflect the words on your list? Obviously, you wouldn’t choose faded, somber photos with a desaturated palette if your story is a feel-good romantic comedy.
What would your story look like if it were a movie? Step into the role of the director and cinematographer. Once you have a grasp of the aesthetic, you can start looking for specific images to use for your mood board.
Highlight Significant Elements from the Story
Run through your story in your mind and pick out significant elements that stand out to you. They could be things like repeated imagery or themes, important moments, emotions/experiences, and anything else that stands out in your mind when you think about your story. What pops into your head? What are some things you’ve seen that reminded you of your story?
Capture the setting and characters, too. Where does your story take place? What are some notable things about the setting? Think about where the characters live, where the most important scenes take place, and what it is about each of these locations that stand out in your mind. Also, do the season and/or weather play an important role in the story?
Include unique things about your characters ─ physical traits, clothing, interests, career, personality. Do your best to capture their essence. Also, look for images that represent the relationships between the characters.
Where to Look and What to Search For
My favorite place to look for inspiring imagery is Pinterest. It has an abundance of images from sources all over the internet to look through, their search function is very effective, and their algorithm is great at pulling related images once you find some that fit what you are looking for. Other great sources are Tumblr and WeHeartIt.
To find images that suit your story’s aesthetic, use keywords from everything mentioned in the last two sections. For example, for my Time Traveler Project, some of the terms I used were “winter aesthetic,” “1940s party,” and “stargazing couple.” I want a somewhat dreamy aesthetic with a touch of magic, so I looked for slightly desaturated images, bokehs, and intimate black and white images within those keywords.
You may have to do a little digging to find images that illustrate the elements you want to include within the aesthetic and vibe you want, as well, but once you find a few that fit, you’ll be able to go down the rabbit hole of related images that the algorithm finds for you.
Tip: Add the word “aesthetic” to the end of keywords and you’ll usually find more artsy images as opposed to literal representations.
Putting It All Together
I always collect my images on Pinterest boards for each of my stories. I’ve found it to be the easiest and most convenient method. If you want to create a graphic you can post elsewhere, I recommend using Canva. It’s a free app you can use via your web browser or device such as your phone or tablet that allows you to create beautiful graphics. They have a huge source of templates, elements, and fonts that are super easy to use. They even have mood board templates and collages ready to go that you can drag and drop your images into.