Miscellaneous · Writing Tips

Writing Tips: Picture Book

Many writers use pictures as inspiration and/or reminders as they write their novels, but what pictures should writers try to find?

Since I’ve come across many who use pictures, I thought I’d expand by showing many different kinds of pictures artists can use throughout the writing process. I’m even going to use my personal picture book that I began in 2007 when I originally wrote Minutes Before Sunset. So you’ll not only get ideas, but you’ll also see an extra from behind-the-scenes of my recently published novel! (Which, by the way, is now available directly on AmazonBarnes & Noble, SmashwordsDiesel, Sony, and Apple.)

The original Minutes Before Sunset picture book, 2007
The original Minutes Before Sunset picture book, 2007

When I was creating Minutes Before Sunset, as many of you know, I already had a novel published. I also had two others written. As much I can keep my characters straight, I often need to go back, because of the abundance of information. I find this completely normal, and pictures can help more than you think! On top of that, it’s actually quite fun to create a picture book.

As you might notice, my book is titled “Characters,” but it contains much more than just people. At first, I thought I’d only need people, but then I realized that I could also use pictures representing scenes, objects, and more. Before I start, however, I’d recommend using Stumbleupon, Pinterest, and model websites to find the perfect picture (or as close as you can get) to certainties within your novel. These websites are also good just to find inspiration. Maybe you have character you aren’t sure of. On a lot of model websites, you can literally type in a description to find portfolios of genders, ethnicities, and even height or weight. Granted, models are models, so the pictures of characters may be much more perfect than they actually are in the novel. Simply keep in mind that you’re using these pictures as a map, not a definite rule. And here are my three types of pictures:


This example page includes Mindy and Noah (originally named "Colton")
This example page includes Mindy and Noah (originally named “Colton”)

This is one of my many character pages. I show this one first, because characters are often the most important to start with when making a picture book, mainly because a lot of novels revolve around the characters more than the scene. However, this can be very different, and it depends on your writing style.

I normally have a page or more per character (for clothes, hair, eyes, etc.) But I included this simplistic version, because it’s two side characters. Mindy is Eric’s stepmother; Colton is Eric’s stepbrother. Fun fact: his name was changed to Noah during the publication process.

However, in terms of character, you can add much more information on these pages than just pasting pictures into a notebook. (In fact, I keep a character list on my computer on top of these notebooks.) But I add basic information next to their pictures. As an example:

MINDY: married to Jim Welborn 2 years, curly red hair in her face, cheerful, brown eyes, comes across as perfect housewife, oblivious.

COLTON: Mindy’s ten-year-old, annoying, pries, brown hair with pudgy face, brown eyes.

In this case, for instance, Mindy’s picture is of a very young woman compared to her age in the book, but I used it, because it had the type of hair, skin, smile, and eyes that I wanted. Those were the most important features, for me, to find.


An example of an object's page.
An example of an object’s page.

This is an example of an object’s page from my picture book. When I was younger, I didn’t expect this to be too important, but it is, because there are so many scenes where these things can become symbolic and/or useful. For instance, throughout Minutes Before Sunset, Eric wears a vital necklace to the plot. I have pictures of it, but the words had a lot of spoilers, so I’m adding this one of dresses instead. Objects can includes clothes, furniture, cars, and possessions like phones or gifts like flowers. I’d recommend not stressing too much about objects unless they are very important, but, at the same time, keeping repetitive information straight. This example is a dress that my character, Crystal Hutchins, wears towards the end of the novel:

DRESSES: silver party dress, seen as rebelling against the fancy aspect of prom, but it really flatters her. Hair will be down, for once, very girly for Crystal.

An interesting fact to keep in mind is this is simply the dress, not how she looks in it or what it would look like in the light of a dim dance floor. As great as these pictures can be, they can get confusing if you don’t keep these scene aspects in mind. That’s why I added another category.


This is an example of scenes given through pictures.
This is an example of scenes given through pictures.

This is an example of my last category. (Thanks for sticking with me through this long post!) I struggled with adding scenes into my picture book, mainly because I believed I couldn’t find the perfect pictures (or even something close) that I needed to make notes. But I was wrong.

I found a lot of pictures, and I kept most of them. The only thing I’d recommend is keeping in mind, much like the characters and objects, that these are maps, not definite rules. In this case, the first photo is a railing at night, and that’s accurate, but the second photo is simply a tree in snow, and it isn’t the correct tree. It’s only a photo I can use for inspiration during a snowy scene I write later in the series. Here’s the example:

SCENES: First, railing by river where Eric (Shoman) first meets nameless shade. Second, lamppost and road used mainly in second book.

I hope this picture book with the examples helps inspire you to try out a picture collection for your novels, while also having fun exploring the internet for inspiration! 

Goodreads quote of the day: “Fate was a reality, but it wasn’t a beautiful or angelic thing. It was a heart-wrenching nightmare. And we’d fallen blindly into it. We had no escape. It was happening, and it was up to me to guarantee our survival of it. (Eric)” ― Shannon A. ThompsonMinutes Before Sunset


34 thoughts on “Writing Tips: Picture Book

  1. I do similar, only mostly with files on my computer. As I have two monitors, I often will have pics up on one, while I write in the other. I used to have hard copies of everything, but it gets to be so much printing. Now I use Pintrest and Yarny so I have my inspiration pics and I have my story with me everywhere! I can even access both with my phone.

    1. I mainly use electronic files today as well. But I thought it was easier to share on the internet with my hard copy, considering taking screenshots can sometimes look confusing on the internet.
      Thank you for sharing your techniques! I’m jealous of the double monitors. :]

      1. yeah screenshots can be very confusing.
        If you work on a laptop, it is super easy to pop another monitor up. I know when I go back to a desktop I have to have two video cards cause I can’t live without my double screens! *grins*

  2. Doing something not quite similar. I’m editing manuscript on blog. One per week with writing, poems, music, illustrations, quotations, graphic design. Each week is separate section. New section title. Came to me and has developed. So I definitely like your creating notebooks with scenes set up. Illustrations. It was written first but it is the prequel to a screenplay I am working on. Whatever way you can motivate the creative flow is usually always the right way to go. Jk 😎

  3. Thanks for this reminder! I keep photos of actors who might look like my characters, but I don’t keep pictures of clothes and other items. Good suggestions, Shannon.

    1. I like the ‘actors’ idea. As my writing usually revolves around the local area I tend to go out and take photographs as reference. Oft times there are details in the photograph that I missed by just looking. This way I sometimes capture some interesting characters as well. A scene I’m working on now involves a fishing campsite and, although I’m not a fisherman, a trip out there was needed. I usually take four shots from the same location, all four compass points. This way when the character is sitting at the campfire I can see whatever he sees no matter which way he’s looking. I don’t usually use this much detail in the final text but it does put me in the middle of the scene.

  4. Thank you for the idea! I’m always looking for ways to get the creative juices flowing and for trying new writing techniques. I’m not necessarily writing a novel, but I think this will help with brainstorming and inspiring me to write more.

  5. Great post! I tend to do a hybrid of hard copy and electronic files of my characters. For each novel I keep a notebook where I write outlines and keep character sketches, take notes and jot ideas. I love that everything I need is all in one place! Then I use Pinterest a visual pin board for characters, settings, etc. Thanks for sharing your process!

    1. Thanks for sharing yours, too! I think it’s always great to see how writers are similar and different in the ways they organize. That way, new writers have a lot of options they can try out if they can’t seem to find their own niche.

  6. I’d never thought to try something like this with writing a story or book, though I do it on my blog and it does help so I think this sounds like a good idea. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I have used actors as a base of what a character may look like but I never thought of printing or Pinteresting a picture for my notes. Thanks for the tips. I think I will try them out.

  8. Great post, and I admire your organisational skills! The more I’ve written, the more I’ve realised some discipline in organising and collecting certain details/images/ideas is critical to keeping consistency (and sanity during editing!). Love the fact that you’ve shared what you’ve actually done rather than just talked about theory – as a ‘newbie’ writer, getting an idea of the actual, tangible things other writers do is sooooooo helpful.

  9. What a great idea! And it seems so logical now that I’ve seen it. Don’t know why the idea never occurred to me. I’ll have to start a Pinterest board just for my book. I’m starting a new page on my blog for short stories and I plan to reblog this on that page if you don’t mind.

    1. I don’t mind at all! Please share. I love helping and/or simply inspiring others writers that may be struggling or just want new ways to connect and explore the world of writing :]

  10. I used to do a similar thing when I played around writing kids books. It kept me mindful of the characters personalities. Great idea to share with others.

    1. I want to give back to the writing community. I see so many talented people who need just one little push to get into their element, and if I can push them, I’d be honored.

      1. Hello Shannon! I am a brand-new blogger, as of this week! I was directed to your blog and am loving it, will definitely return to read more. “Picture book” is a great idea, especially for visually dominant people like me. Thanks for sharing your tips! P.S. Check out my blog when you get a moment, not too much there yet, but I’ve got a start. Take care!

  11. This is a really cool idea! I have a good idea of my characters’ appearances for this book, but I have trouble visualizing parts of the landscape where they live. Doing a picture book at least for the scenes might really help. (Sometimes I wish I could draw!)

    1. I wish I could draw in detail too! Something we have in common. I love saving pictures for picture books to this day. It’s a lot of fun (and it’s also fun to look back on)

  12. Your description of a picture book inspires me to give it a try. I’m into my 3rd novel and already losing track of characters and their characteristics. Thanks.

    1. I hope you enjoy it! Thank you for the compliments. I think picture books help a lot, especially with numerous novels you may or may not stop writing in a while and come back to later.

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