Pinning Him Down–Pinterest and Character Development

Frankenstein’s Monster, by DerrickT c/o Flikr

Today I thought I’d continue my exploration of Pinterest with a post about Character Development. I’ve wanted to talk about characters in writing for a while, and eventually plan to do a series–so this seemed like a good place to start.

My first impression of Pinterest after a couple day’s use is that it’s best for…well, impressions. As writers, we’re in the business of creation, and that means we’re always keeping an eye out for inspiration which can come from anywhere. It’s tempting to use too much of something that inspires you–but that’s a topic for another post.

The way to get around this–in my opinion, anyway–is to cast a wider net, as it were. Use Pinterest to gather images from a large range; don’t collect a bunch of pictures and videos that are too alike, and don’t be afraid to spread out beyond the subject of the board. What you want is something like a Scatter Plot. You’ll have a certain number of images that relate to one another, but you’ll have enough on either side of the range that it can develop into your own unique idea.

Anyway, back to impressions. I think this sort of strategy is going to be most useful in two areas: developing a setting, and developing a character. Neither should have real-world counterparts (unless your story is set in a detailed real setting), so you want to have a wide-ranging impression. I think this can be most effective with characters, because the best characters are the ones that are multifaceted. You want to have a character that would look like a scatter plot if they were graphed out.

To that end, I’ve started two boards which I’ll use to develop two of my main characters: Alkut and Ahbinzur. Take a look.


Alkut is the main villain in my Tapestry Project. He’s is a Page to the court of the Emperor Tauri, recently deceased. The Yziman Empire wishes to establish a trade agreement with their rivals, the Toral–an initiative planned by Tauri. The Emperor’s heir is no statesman, and so much of the negotiations fall to Alkut.

He’s a remarkably handsome man and very charismatic. His equivalent in the Tarot is the King of Wands; he knows how to take action, has a fierce temper and will, and tends to consume what he touches. I’ve included several different versions of the King of Wands, each with subtly different iconography that help me round out his character.
His defining characteristic is his yellow eyes. Most of the Ozym are pale and have little natural colour. There are a few Ozym who have yellow eyes, but they’re washed out or indicate sickness. Alkut’s eyes, on the other hand, shine with an otherworldly vibrancy. A lot of my board so far consists of different yellow eyes, and I’ve even deleted several pictures I thought didn’t work. I like one in particular: a picture of a young boy with bright yellow eyes. There’s an innocence and peace to the face that offsets his eyes nicely–he looks older and wiser than he is, and his gaze is hypnotic.
Because he’s a villain, I wanted some pictures that reflect his personality. He’s evil, through and through (though I’m brainstorming some redeeming qualities so he’s not flat). I chose a few pictures of frightening or spooky figures; these won’t be used to describe him, but they give me something to look at as I’m thinking of his mannerisms. In this sense, they truly are pictures of impression.
Finally, I included a picture of a spotted salamander. That creature is the Elemental of Fire, and in my story a mage working with a particular element will often have such a creature as a familiar. Alkut’s familiar, however, is a dragon, and I want it to have a slamander-esque form. So I’ve also found some neat pictures of Hypsognathus and Eryops, early dinosaurs with that kind of structure. The Hypsognathus Skull is particularly evocative.


In Tapestry, the Toral are ruled by a Queen, who is in turn advised by the Hierophantic Caste. The Caste is ruled by the Stewards, four mages who each look after their element. Ahbinzur has been newly elected to be the Steward of the Aether, but immediately notices the decadence and hypocrisy latent in the Caste. She wants to strike a blow for True Faith, and though her actions may be devastating, they’re for the greater good. As such, she correlates nicely to the Queen of Swords, who looks out for Justice and Truth at all costs.
I’ve included several images of the Queen of Swords in her board, each with different iconography. I particularly like the Crowley version–this is a deck I work with often. That image is the Biblical Judith, who seduced Holofernes, then killed him in order to free her people. She went to great lengths and suffered much for the Greater Good–and so does Ahbinzur.
Her element being Air, I wanted to find images that have a flowing, sort of ethereal quality to them. The meditating maiden is particularly nice. I also included an image that evokes her namesake, Binah–the third Sephirot on the Tree of Life–which represents knowledge and understanding. She has a clarity of vision that most of her Order lack, which is exactly why she’s taken it upon herself to reform her Order. Yet there’s a certain innocence about her. She’s young and inexperienced, and there’s a hint of doubt in her. The image of a fairy by the pond evokes this; there’s mischief there, but more so, there is uncertainty.
The Elemental of Air is a Sylph. This is a creature normally appearing something like a fairy, which doesn’t really fit into my world–so I’ve been trying to find something analagous. In searching Pinterest for Sylphs, I came across several beautiful birds. The Long Tailed Sylph, fittingly, is a real hummingbird native to South America. While my world is a fantasy one, I’m not going crazy with imaginary creatures, so it was an epiphany to find an actual creature I could use here. Ahbinzur’s familiar is a retinue of Sylphs, which she can communicate with and who follow her instructions.
There’s a dragon for each element, and the Aether is no exception. When thinking of what form this creature should take, I looked at pictures of Chinese Dragons, and learned of the Azure Dragon, a Chinese contellation. This fits perfectly, as the dragon lives in the sky, flows with the currents of air, and has a sinuous appearance. I imagine the Aetherdrake being born of smoke, striking fast, and floating away on the breeze before it can be struck in kind.

So there we have it. These “character sketches” can help flesh out my characters in a grand way–and I’m learning new things about them as I browse. So far I think it’s a great way to build characters–you should give it a try!

Pinterest: A Worthy Writer’s Tool?

Pinterest_FaviconRecently I mentioned that adding too much too soon to your story can cause it to collapse–as mine is in danger of doing. If you see this happening, it’s a good opportunity to step back, take stock, and find out what you really need to write. Roz Morris excellent blog post on how to correct this problem was an eye-opener for me, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last week. One of the ideas she suggests is to use Pinterest…so I thought we’d look at that briefly today.

If you’re not aware of Pinterest–and admittedly, though I’ve heard of it I never really looked into it until now–here it is in a nutshell: you find pictures you like on the internet, and “pin” them to a virtual corkboard. Once pinned, others can find you and re-pin what you’ve pinned, and you can pin their pins. The result is a board filled with images that are shared and shared again. When I first heard of it, I thought it sounded like most social media–useless to anyone who didn’t know how to use it properly. Further, what good would it be to an artist who works in words, not pictures? I never really bothered to explore it further than that.

But Pinterest does have one very important thing to offer writers: inspiration.

This is why Roz recommended it. You can start a Pinterest board and fill it with images related to the story of book you’re writing. Then, when you get stuck or go off track, you can go back to your board to see what inspired you about the story in the first place. It’s like a visual notebook where you can jot down ideas, feelings, and themes. For those of us who are visual learners–that’s me–this can be a great boon. Imagining a book in your head is one thing, but I’ve already found that compiling images that reflect that imagery can be inspiring.

Another way I can imagine Pinterest being helpful is in World Building, especially for speculative fiction. In fantasy, you need to create a comprehensive setting that is exciting and makes sense, and it can be challenging to keep things straight. This is one issue I keep having: I lay down a “rule” for my world (such as that the Elements produce magic), but keep tweaking it until it loses the effect I meant it to have. Or I describe an area as being a desert wasteland without considering how the relatively close major river seems incongruous. Finding pictures of the setting you want to convey can give you real-world analogues to keep your setting believable.
One thing I want to develop in a more concrete way is the varying species of dragons in my world. As the Elements create magic, so too do they infer magical beings, so I want each species of dragon to not only correspond with, but represent their Element. This has already been beneficial for me; in searching for pictures of salamanders, I found one (pinned to my board) of a spotted salamander that, if it were the size of a man, would make a formidable dragon. A salamander is a creature of fire–thus, a fire dragon.

One thing to be aware of, I think, is the difference between Inspiration and plain Stealing an Idea. This can be a dangerous line to walk on Pinterest, where it’s easy to just click “pin” on anything that catches your fancy across the internet, without caring where it came from. If a certain picture serves too well as the basis of some creative idea in your story, it’s not really yours. If I take the picture of the spotted salamander and use it as my cover image, I’m stealing it. If someone draws a picture of a water dragon and I describe it too closely in my book, I’m stealing someone’s idea. I think you’d have to be careful about where you draw the line.

Using Pinterest is easy. You set up an account through Facebook or Twitter, then start new boards for whatever topics you like. My first board is four The Courts–the four stories that make up Phase One of my Tapestry Project. I may divide them into four separate boards, one for each story, but this serves for now.
Then just go searching. You can search Pinterest for whatever you like, and each picture that comes up has a Pin button on it. Pin it and it’s in your board, where others can see it as well. You can also pin images from anywhere on the Internet–there’s an option to add a “Pin It” button to your browser. I put it on the toolbar right below the address bar on Firefox, so it’s right there.Any time you pin an image, you can choose which board it goes to, and add a caption.

Like any social media service, people can also follow you, so they can see all your boards as they’re updated. For some baffling reason, I got 50 followers within an hour of setting up my account. I can’t say I know how this works, or how I can turn it back on my writing–but the point is that you can create a community. And that community can help build your author platform.

There are a lot of writers out there who swear by Pinterest. Here’s a few articles about it for further reading–and it’s just the tip of the iceberg!

So, is Pinterest worth it for writers? Truth be told, I’m not sure yet. I’m still experimenting with it, but so far it’s been…interesting. I think the biggest challenge for a writer is, as Roz points out in her article, using it. It can be tempting to just browse for pictures–I got lost in this yesterday–and forget why you started this in the first place. But if you’re diligent and this kind of “imaging” is something you enjoy/get use out of, then by all means, check it out. You might be pleasantly surprised.

At the very least, you’ll gleefully waste an afternoon looking at pictures of food and crafts.

What do you think about Pinterest for Writers? Is it useful, or just a distraction? Do you have a Pinterest board? I want to hear your comments and see your links!