What is an Idea Board? When I mention my use of them, some people mistake them for storyboards as they are used in film making. Storyboards are something altogether different. Storyboards are sketches that tell the story (movie) frame by frame, showing each scene to be filmed. They give the director a specific idea of how to shoot the film, to keep him/her on track. The term Idea Board is not mine to claim. I borrowed it from author friend Deborah Raney, who writes Christian Women’s Fiction, and have used them for every book I write since she first introduced me to them.
So back to my original question…an Idea Board is a poster board filled with photos—pictures of people I cast as the characters in my novels. For my biblical novels, I Google search Jewish actors and actresses for most of the characters and Arab actors and actresses for a few of the others, like Hagar and Ishmael in my current WIP (work in progress). I’m looking for faces that are similar to the character I envision. (This comes in handy when the publisher asks for book cover ideas. The Jewish actresses I “cast” for both Michal and Abigail and the upcoming cover of Bathsheba have come very close to the models they found to pose for their respective covers.) For my novels in other genres (unpublished) I found pictures in clothing catalogs. (The picture example is my Idea Board for Abigail. The two different pictures for Abigail’s character are to show one of her younger and one older—for my benefit—though the actresses aren’t the same.)
Once all of my characters are “cast”, I look for photos of place. Archeological sites of ancient Israel are great, along with pictures of artifacts or anything else that gives me a feel for the setting. I’m a visual learner. I need pictures to stimulate my imagination most of the time. Research books like pictorial dictionaries or cultural atlases are too nice to cut up, so I get most of my pictures off the Internet and print them for the Idea Board. I love making them! Maybe it’s the kid in me getting to play with scissors and glue and pretending I’m artistic, but this is one of the fun parts of writing!
Another option to add to an Idea Board is to make Character Trait Cards and tact them to the bulletin board on either side of the Idea Board. Brightly colored (or white if you prefer) 4x6 or 3x5 cards work well. Put the name of each character at the top, then list their characteristics below their name. Things like: hair and eye color, weight, build, age, birth date, career, favorite food and color, and how they were related to other characters in the story. Depending on your genre, you can get pretty detailed with these things, and making such a list does come in handy when you go to write. It helps to know the character’s eye color doesn’t change from blue to green because we forgot what we wrote the first time thirty pages earlier. And editors appreciate having such a list when they read through your manuscript to make sure you stayed consistent.
Idea Boards hang in my office as inspiration. If you find yourself stuck as you try to write your own novel, perhaps such a visual reminder will get you going again.