Besides writing out brief details in scenes and chapters, world building and writing up character profiles, I’m rediscovering other creative techniques that keep me focused on my stories. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who uses up a lot of creative resources to stay focused, my mind just works differently, but I figured I’d let some of you into my love if visual reminders and/or prompts. In this case I’ll share my process for creating mood boards for a couple of my novel projects and share one board that is purely random and open for discussion. Apologies for the length.
‘Wormwood Cradle’ (current working title – main project)
The colours are inspired by autumn tones. The orange, black and red also gave me feelings of dark evenings or nights, giving way to comfort and mildly scary Halloween vibes. Sounds like a stretch, but my story starts toward the end of a bright and smooth summer. As the story goes on the days become shorter, a sense of comfort overcomes the three main characters, which also gives way to things that go bump in the night.
That leads into the famous paintings on the board. Both paintings are two favourites of mine. The top image is ‘Saturn Devouring his Son’ by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. This piece in particular is part of Goya’s ‘Dark Paintings’ which showed the horrors of life, and showcased gore in its richest form. In relation to my story, similarly to how I view the original painting, a parent is devouring its child, it’s future. Whilst the shock and gore is quite confronting and it’s immersive, you can’t help but keep looking and wondering why Saturn is devouring his adult child. For me, looking at this painting again issued thoughts around an alternative outcome. What if Saturn wasn’t able to hold his son, the future, back? What would happen if Saturn wasn’t the jealous father from myth and instead inspired his children to follow prophecy and be better leaders? What if the future didn’t surround the son, but rather the future of the young people in a town/city whose leader was too afraid to step up? An image conjured up a lot of ideas and the main drive for one of the main characters in my novel. Instead of being a monster god who eats his son and thus destroying the future, I have a woman who is meant to be in a good position to drive the rebirth of a new generation and forge the future of the town she lives in, but refuses not to due to stubbornness and grief.
At the same time, Saturn, depicted there as a monster also relates to the antagonist in my tale. Which crosses over into the other famous work, ‘The Nightmare’ by Henry Fuseli. The image depicts an incubus sitting atop of a sleep-paralysed woman. Not going into great detail about what is happening in the image, the incubus creature actually plays a huge role in my story. Not that particular incubus, I’ve made up my own, but the idea of them and what they do to their victims is very much at the forefront of my narrative. I focused mostly on the notion that life can either be completely sucked out of you, or that something evil can create something other is what haunts me the most about the image. I wanted to bring some of those intense feelings of the mythological otherworld and the unknown into the tale. The thought of knowing you can be comfortable on a nice autumn night, climbing into your bed and slowly drifting off to sleep, only to suddenly wake up and feel a horrible weight on your chest, and the wind literally being sucked from your whole body. Unable to move your body, only your eyes, and seeing a figure so horrifying sitting on your chest, threatening and cursing you out as your heart beats so fast you feel that you could die. That. Those are the feelings I want to share in that novel.
Combining the colours and the paintings with the imagery of the occult, nature and the beautiful skin of a black woman, all combine that my novel needs to be relatable to people who are different, whose lives are overruled by society’s stereotypes of us. Like myself, some POC are living myths, and only we are responsible for reshaping those annoying stereotypes that others have labelled us with for centuries. So yeah, two out of the three best friends are black leads, who are just normal kinda women who live fairly normal, even if witchy, lives. Yes, it’s a story about witches who have a lot of work to do with the future of the town, and one another.
The only differences that this board has made me realise I need to change is to focus more on one main character and her story, and perhaps expand on the other two women in separate novels.
I’ve written a fair amount of ‘Wormwood Cradle’ so far as that story is the easiest one I have been able to focus on intensely. At this moment in time it seems likely it’ll be my first published work. This is funny because I have been working on another story for years and I am never happy with it. It blocks my creative juices on an emotional level. So much so that the following board has revealed to me the imbalance and flow of the aesthetics I wanted for the book.
‘Axelle & Lemon’
This is one of my many boards for what I consider to be the most difficult book I’ll ever write. I’ve been working on this manuscript for the most part of 6 years and its undergone many transitions. So much so, characters that I had in the early written pieces are now central characters in other manuscript projects instead. So, I don’t know exactly what this novel will end up being. It’s given birth to many other stories, as mentioned, but I think I’m finally at a point where I’m comfortable only dipping in and out of it, knowing exactly who the characters are and what each of their personal stories will be.
The first image of the women was a mock up of the cover of the book if I ever managed to be ready to submit the manuscript and cover ideas to the graphic artist. It’s a story about two women, separate lives, that entwine thanks to friendship and want. That much is easy to decipher. Looking a little closer both women have different ethnic backgrounds and that element is incredibly important to me. As much as I love reading stories, it would be nice to have a shelf of stories about people of colour to outnumber the non-POC novels I have read and own throughout my life. People like me have stories to tell too. From working on this story, I made it my mission to make sure to publish 80% of my stories with a POC protagonist/lead. I think this board says more about my style and wants when it comes to working on my creative endeavours, not so much the story.
Which brings me to the cityscape picture. Its an image of my favourite city in the world, Toronto (sorry fam, I still love the home states, chill, its cool). In real life I’m moving to Toronto some day soon, and similarly to the main character Axelle (the black woman) she is moving there too. They always say that you should write what you know, and I know the immigrant story well enough that I could write it in my own way, based on being an immigrant myself, and then getting ready to be an immigrant again. However, the city, as beautiful it is under the sunset and city lights shows only a snippet of how vast the city is. It’s a shot taken from Toronto Island which reminded me about how so many people moved to the island to get away from the city itself. The notion of such a beautiful city being a tempting mistress, and cruel master and a vacuum of youth are what I wanted to explore through Axelle’s experiences. Therefore, I can’t finish the book until I settle in the city myself, hence why this story is all over the place, though the cylindrical focus is the city. It’ll always be the city.
The men, I won’t go into detail about them as their stories can be quite telling and I’m not ready to discuss much about this project. Though I will say this, the Asian man at the bottom reveals that you can be part of a city, be successful, have it all, and still find yourself alone and constantly wanting to fill a void that we actively learn to ignore. That’s what the city does to some people. He’s wearing a luxe coat whilst being surrounded by beautiful blossoms, which is similar in colour to the purple in the sunset.
I know what I want for the story these days, yet I know my thoughts are subject to change. So as erratic and unbalanced as this mood board is, its reminiscent of the state of my mindset. It’s not as put together as the previous project, but I know I want the overarching substance of all the entwined tales to grow from and be suffocated by love. Love is erratic, beautiful, strange and cruel. I just don’t know how I’ll put it into words that can convey that, only time will tell!
What about the mood board above? What could you discern from it? What kind of story could you create from it? Let me know!