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How to make a moodboard for your novel

There are so many things that writers can do instead of writing, and some of them are actually useful. Although I don’t want you to get sucked into browsing Pinterest for hours and kidding yourself that it counts as writing, learning how to make a moodboard for your novel can be a useful exercise that helps inspire your writing. Here are a few tips that show you how to make the best out of your moodboard.

Related: All vibes and no plot? Do this.

What is a moodboard?

A mood board is essentially a collage of pictures that somehow depict the mood and the essence of something. They don’t need to be exact representations, just something that has the same vibe.

When you’re making a mood board for your story, you can include these kinds of things in the pictures: colours, sceneries, places, buildings, clothes, people who remind you of your characters and people doing things that your characters are doing. You can also write words on top of your mood board to remind you of the most important things you want your story to tell.

As well as a general mood board for your story, you could create a unique board for each of your characters. These can be fun to share with other people as well when you want them to get to know your story.


Where can you find pictures for your moodboard?

Where to find pictures for your moodboard

If your mood board is strictly for your personal use and you’re not sharing it with anyone, there’s basically no limit to where you can source your photos. But if you are going to share our collage with other people, make sure you only use pictures that are meant to be shared and can be used by anyone. Don’t just use some random person’s selfies and don’t use other people’s art without crediting them.

Google image search is probably the easiest way to find pictures when you know what you’re looking for, although you’ll likely still end up with a lot of stuff that wasn’t exactly what you wanted. Some of the search tools will help you narrow down your search, though!

Google search results for old mansion
Use these suggestions to get more specific results

If you have a Pinterest account (and it’s very easy to get one), finding cool pictures is very easy. Using the word “aesthetic” in your search will greatly help you find pics that have a certain mood, for example, “small town aesthetic”, “librarian aesthetic” or even “beekeeper aesthetic”. The best thing is, when you find a suitable picture, you can click it and find more pictures like it.

Pinterest search results for girl in library aesthetic

Instagram can also be used to find pictures you like, but saving them is a little more difficult. I’d recommend using Pinterest to create your moodboard and then saving the Instagram posts you like there to the right board – that way you won’t have to bother with taking screenshots.

Finding pictures of your characters

How to find pictures of your original characters for your moodboard

Unless you’re writing fanfiction of movie characters, it’s basically impossible to find actual pictures of the characters you’re writing about. You still have a few options for finding suitable character photos, though, if you want to include them in your mood board.

Pinterest will come in handy here as well. If you have a specific person (or existing fictional character) in mind who your character reminds you of, you can search for it on Pinterest and then look for similar pictures. But you could also use the visual search where you do a search on a picture to find other pictures that look like it. I’ve found a really cool piece of fan art and used it as a basis of my Pinterest search, and I got loads of pictures of people who looked similar to the original picture.

Still, maybe there isn’t anyone who looks anything like your character, or you simply can’t find anything you’d like. Artbreeder is an amazing website that lets you create totally unique pictures of humans using machine learning, and many of my writer friends have used it to create pictures of their characters. You can use any picture as your basis and start tweaking it.

A screenshot of Artbreeder
Here’s what using Artbreeder looks like, and a picture I created for one of my characters last year. The settings are a bit of a mystery, but just keep experimenting with them.

Artificial intelligence can also be used to create completely unique pictures from scratch using prompts, though some elements of human creation are still difficult for AI. Mainly, hands and teeth. Still, don’t let that stop you from experimenting. Here’s a picture I created with Fotor:

AI generated image

Good thing he’s got his mouth shut and he’s hiding his hands, right? I created this picture with the prompt “An upper class man with black hair is standing outside in front of a big house, he looks bored”. Just don’t look at him for too long or you’ll realise his right hand is freakishly long.

How to make a moodboard with free apps

How to use free apps to create your moodboard

There are a lot of options for creating moodboards, and the best one is simply the one you find the easiest to use.

If you don’t need your collage in a single image file, making a Pinterest board for your pictures and keeping them there is the easiest choice. You’ll be able to add more pictures with ease and move them around, and you could always take a screenshot if needed. But if you do want to create a proper collage, you still have several options for that.

If you just want to paste the pictures onto something, you could always copy them from wherever you found them and then paste them onto Paint. Just remember that you won’t be able to move them around after pasting them, so you can’t make changes to your collage.

Canva is a free tool that you can use online on your desktop or as an app. You can choose a blank canvas and add pictures there, but they also have free moodboard templates that you can use. After you’ve made your collage, you can download it or you can keep it online – it will stay in your Canva account and you’ll be able to edit it later.

Although you can use Canva on your phone as well, in my opinion, it can be a bit fiddly to use. My favourite app for making collages on my phone is inCollage, and there is a paid version, but the free version works perfectly fine for making your mood board. Some phones also let you create a collage straight from your gallery when you choose multiple photos – see if that might work for you.

And hey, sometimes the traditional way can be the best. If you have a stack of magazines with pictures that you like, why not create your moodboard by hand with a little help from scissors and some glue? Using a big piece of construction paper as your background, you will get a much larger picture than if you were just peering at it on your phone’s screen.

So now that you know how you can make a moodboard, the question remains: Will writing your novel benefit from it?

How a moodboard can help you write better

Making moodboards helps you figure out your story

Your story should have a certain mood that guides your writing, and if you can actually see this mood, it will be easier to convey it in your writing. And it’s okay if you didn’t create a mood board when you started writing, because it can be just as valuable at any part of the writing process.

Your mood board can also help with honing in on the tone of your story. If you’re writing a dark and gritty story full of crime, grime and shadows of the past, looking at your mood board can help you remember this if you ever feel tempted to get too light-hearted. Although every book should have scenes with higher and lower tension, the overall tone should still be the same, or else the story will feel like a strange mish-mash of things.

And look, some of us can’t see pictures in our minds, I’ve heard. If you can’t visualize what your settings look like or what kind of people your characters are, it can be more difficult to focus on keeping them consistent during your writing. Actually being able to see the pictures can help with that. Granted, your protagonist’s hair colour is far from the most important things you need to know when you’re writing a story, but seeing your characters can still help you write them better.

Getting into a “writing mode” will be easier with a moodboard

I don’t know a lot of people these days who have all day to work on their stories. That’s why for many of us, it’s important to be able to get into the writing mood as soon as possible and not waste time trying to “feel like writing”. Even if you do have the time, it’s still more important to just write instead of waiting for the right time.

Looking at your moodboard and listening to your writing playlist can instantly put you in the correct mood to write your story. If you have your moodboard as the background of your phone or your computer desktop, you can also be reminded that you need to work on your writing instead of getting lost on Facebook again!

What are your best tips for making a moodboard? Would you like to share yours? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Now that you’ve got your moodboard, would you like to outline your novel in 30 days?

It’s so easy to procrastinate on your writing, and although writing a great story takes time, you can absolutely outline your novel in less than a month. My writing challenge gives you the steps to outlining your story in just 30 days and you also get the guide that teaches you about story structure and other important storytelling elements that you need to know about when writing a novel outline. Check it out and get started today!

3 thoughts on “How to make a moodboard for your novel”

  1. Great article. Thanks. I am one of those people that can’t visualize. It is called aphantasia and is a neurological disorder.

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