I read a wonderful idea the other day that has me very inspired. The suggestion I spotted online, from a fellow writer, was to create a "visual book" on the fictional world of your current work-in-progress.
Now the fun thing about this idea is that I've been doing it for ages without really realizing I was doing it. And not just with the current WIP. I remember many, many years ago now (about 25 of them) working on a novel and finding myself drawn to the look of a girl whose photograph I saw in a catalog. She looked the way I imagined my main character looked, so I cut the picture out and tucked it inside my writing folder.
It seems even more crucial when you're creating a fictional world and characters that look noticeably different than your own. My current story, a mid-grade fairy-tale, is set in a fictional land and in a setting I call "roughly medieval." I have some mental time guidelines I'm seeking to follow, in terms of what centuries I'm drawing inspiration from, but since it is a fictional place and I'm not setting it in a very specific year, I'm not sweating tiny inconsistencies regarding language and fashion. Still, I have some very decided opinions about what my characters look like and what kind of landscape they're adventuring in.
A few months ago, when I was in a sort of writing fever on this particular story, I spent about a week working my way through an enormous library book I got on hold. It was a book of castles and it was almost big enough to be one. I could have happily crawled inside and lived there anyway! I went through pages and pages of photographs before I finally found "my" castle. And when I found it, I knew I'd found it. That simply was it -- where my four princesses and their mother lived.
The terrific thing about the world wide web is how easy it is to find other photos once you've got a baseline one to work with. Armed with the name and location of the castle, I was able to find more photographs of it -- in different seasons, from different angles. It is still a castle one can visit today and I found a site with pictures of some of the inner rooms. I got a feel for the spiral stairway and the stonework. It has truly helped me to understand how the characters would walk through these spaces and how living in such a place might make you feel.
I've also collected a photo of a dress that I'm sure Princess Serenity wears to an important event in the story. And I've drawn Queen Harmony -- partly based on a figure in The Chronicles of Western Fashion (a book that has helped me think through clothes).
So I've been playing with this idea for months really -- saving photos to individual computer files within the larger file folder that contains my actual story drafts (and back story matter, lists of names, etc.) What had never occurred to me is the wonderfully simple idea that I could pull it all together into a "visual book." That's what I'm planning to do now -- print these things out and put them in a binder, one I can flip through when I need visual inspiration or just a reminder of the physical spaces my characters are walking through or the weight and drape and color of their clothing.
And now that I've cottoned onto the whole idea, I just can't stop. I've started looking for other images related to my story. Una, Princess Winifred's white horse, is important -- and I've had a real sense in my mind of what she would look like. So I've begun hunting down images of white horses online.
It's a delightful exercise -- and I suspect will be a very helpful one.