In a past life (i.e. my early 20’s), I studied graphic design and worked as a toy developer. I designed hundreds of toys in those few short years and in the process learned a lot of techniques that would help my writing later on.
When you work in a creative industry like toy design, you don’t have the luxury to “wait for inspiration to hit;” you have to deliver, whether you feel particularly creative in that moment or not. Last week, Emily Wenstrom shared some excellent advice on how to rev up your creativity using various writing techniques. Today I wanted to share a design technique you can use to give your writing a boost.
What is a Mood Board?
A mood board is exactly what it sounds like: a board where you post images that set the mood for your project. You use the mood board to capture the emotional core of your project and to figure out how your audience will connect to it.
Here’s an example. In one assignment we had to design packaging for a line of bath and body products, but for a specific niche. I chose to focus on kids who hate to take baths. To get inside the head of my audience, I thought back to when I was a kid, and how my siblings and I loved watching the kids on Nickelodeon get buckets of green goo dumped on them. We’d watch the Ghostbusters movie repeatedly, rewinding it to the part where the little green ghost slimes one of the guys. I cut out pictures and words that reminded me of experiences from my own childhood, creating the mood board above.
As I developed the mood board, I realized that there was an inherent conflict embedded in the project I was developing. The kids might hate taking baths, but the parents want them to be clean. The solution was to turn getting clean into a gross and disgusting process. This way the parents get the kids to bathe, but the kids still get that “yuck factor” that they love. Voilá! You Stink Inc.
You Stink Inc. Bath Products Design
You Stink Inc. Soap Dispenser
I built on this idea of bath products for kids who hate taking baths and created a creepy and scary soap dispenser to house the bath products. The bar of soap goes in the monster’s mouth. You fill the tubes on its head with liquid soap, shampoo and bubble bath. The tongue is actually a terrycloth washcloth. When you reach to grab the soap and your hand hits the monster’s teeth, it screams. Here’s a rough sketch of how I envisioned the final product:
How to Use a Mood Board for Your Writing
- Use it to set the mood. If your story is set in a certain time period, culture or just has an overall mood to it, use a mood board to capture that feeling. It can be helpful to hang your mood board near your writing nook, to help you get into that writing mood immediately.
- Get into the heads of your readers. I know, I know. We’ve all been told a million times that we’re not supposed to “write to the market,” we’re supposed to write from our hearts. This is all wonderful in theory, but sometimes it’s good to get into the heads of readers and figure out what really makes them tick. If we understand our readers–with all their hopes, fears and imperfections–then we can craft our stories to really resonate with that audience. With You Stink Inc., for instance, I realized that what kids wanted (yuck factor) went directly against with the premise of bath products in general. This meant that to get my audience to use the line of bath products I was designing, I’d have to “gross it up.”
- Look for tension and conflict. When you create a mood board, you’re tapping directly into the emotional essence of your story. You can get at the core conflict much faster. In the case of You Stink Inc. there are two conflicts. The superficial one is this idea that kids who hate to bathe won’t want to use bath products, but there’s another more emotionally-laden conflict beneath that: kids vs. grown-ups. Many kids rebel against baths because they’re imposed on them by grown-ups, but if suddenly the bath is slimy and gross (something that grown-ups might object to) then kids might go for it for those same reasons.
Even though it has been many years since I studied design, I still use mood boards regularly. In fact, it was a mood board that helped me come up with the concept behind DIY MFA. To this day, this is one of my favorite ways of getting creative on demand. And the best part is, once you’ve made the mood board, just hang it in you writing space and you’ll get those creative juices flowing right away, sidestepping the need to wait for inspiration.