Character Boards

A Writer’s Inspiration.

Stuart Miles Photo


Character’s come alive to writers in their imaginations, as do plot and theme. But at times, it can be a big challenge to keep everything straight. Computer programs for authors to keep track of scenes and charts for characters are available at the writer’s fingertips, but I got hooked on character boards while writing my Heart Trilogy. I found myself having trouble remembering my character’s names and keeping them straight especially since they are traditional American Indian names written in the Native Language. Then once I added in horse’s names and their descriptions, all manure hit the stall walls.

I heard of the idea of creating these character boards at a writer’s conference in Spokane. So I ventured out to Wal-Mart and bought two huge 24” X 36” peg boards and filled them up with 4” X 6” index cards with my character’s names and life stories on them as well as pictures of settings, horses, and people. I now had a system I didn’t have to wade through. All I had to do was look up on my office wall and gather the information I needed.

character board one

I did not use a character board for my young adult survival book entitled Delbert’s Weir because there were few characters and I already knew the setting. However, I did use easel pads to keep scenes and character straight.

Before I began writing my fifth book, which is my work-in-progress, I typed out most of my characters and their life stories. I bought a couple three ring binders, page separators, and clear project sleeves (information gleaned from a Women Writing the West Writer’s Conference). In one, I placed my characters, interview notes, pictures of horses, art, the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race notes and printouts, and other research as it came to me and was complete with dividers.

In the second notebook, I have a few pictures and the printed first draft of my manuscript ready for edits, I print as I go and have edited at the airport or on a plane thus far.

character board 2

I found turning pages back and forth got quite annoying. So on a flight to visit my youngest son, I wrote out index cards of my characters and used these in the airport and on the plane––a great distraction since flying is not on my list of desired modes of transport. I bet by now you’re asking the computer why I didn’t use those same peg boards as you’ve read about this essay. Well, I have other stuff pinned on one board that inspires me as a writer and as for the other, I think my husband gave it to one of our sons for pictures and whatnot.

One day, not long ago, last week actually, my husband picked up two more peg boards for me while he was in Spokane. I just finished pinning those blasted character (at least the major players) index cards, pictures, and horse and dog info on my boards just before deciding to write this essay.

They are indeed inspirational!

Do you have a character board in your office of writing space? Or if you are not a writer, perhaps an inspiration board of your goals and dreams would help. Try one out. It can be any size. It can be any shape.

I’ve sure enjoyed watching my characters and setting come alive on my two peg boards of inspiration. I’ve even just sat with music playing by candlelight, and soaked in the pictures that put me in my story as if I’m the main character, then begin to write, allowing the words flow like clear creek water.


~ Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. ––Maya Angelou

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  1. When my husband and I had to do a last minute troll through my first novel ms to make sure the hero’s eyes were ALWAYS blue, I decided I needed to keep character cards for this next novel. Each character on an index card. Changing creative needs have necessitated some changes in detail which go on the card. Now for the final draft I’ll be able to go through and each time a character appears I’ll be able to check details on his or her card. Sort of like your board but in a pile instead.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Carolyn, I’ve been in the same spot. It can be tough to keep all those fine details straight. I first I used just index cards and hated sifting through them. With the boards, I just glance over and get what I need. Much simpler for me. Especially with what little writing time I do have.

  2. Great timing. I’m hooked on Nik Morton’s Write A Western in 30 Days. Will be using your board idea for both characters and horses. Thanks!

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Gaby, I think you will find the boards quite useful. Best wishes with your western!

    2. Thanks for the mention, Gaby. Carmen’s boards will prove useful too. Westerns especially should be visual for the reader, I feel.

  3. Gosh, what a great idea–I think I’m gonna use that next book. I tend to have scraps of paper flying around my desk with character info on them, not very organized… Also like Shanna’s idea.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Andi, It’s so much better to have things to glance up at, not interrupt my writing to search for info on my computer. Also having visual on Pinterest is not only fun, but gives readers a peek into our stories.

  4. That’s a great system, Carmen. I think a visual person absolutely needs some sort of character board.
    I use Pinterest boards for each book that I write – that way I can share my inspiration with my readers! (And I can keep my office space neat without the physical boards taking up room.)

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Shanna, you are neat. I get that. Then there are people like me who work best out of chaos! 😉 I’m a pile person. I only loose things when I clean off my desk. I love your Pinterest boards. They are amazing. I also use Pinterest board so others can see the settings or all things Native, like what I’ve done for my new release entitled Delbert’s Weir, to actually see what a weir is! And know it deals with fishing. I love your ideas. Thank you for sharing!

  5. That’s a good system for a visual person. I’m the same way. I have a board that I’ve glued photos of what my character Shandra Higheagle would wear, what her furniture looks like, her horses, dog, Jeep, and anything I find that makes me think of her. I use it when I’m writing my mystery series. I also have a three ring binder that I keep track of all the characters in her community and her Native American community. As well as the forensic information I gather for the murders.

    For my historical romance books I keep folders on my computer of the history and research I do for each book along with character sketches.

    Each writer has their own system and it takes a bit of time to find out what works the best.

    Happy Writing!

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Paty, I am very visual. Thank you for sharing what works for you. I hope we can all share our ideas and help anyone who is still searching for just the right way that helps them keep track of your files. That’s a great idea for your forensic files. I almost have just as much fun creating the characters and settings than I do writing that first draft. I’m happy you shared. Thank you!

  6. It’s interesting learning how other writers keep track of characters, places, etc. I create a computer file “Characters” that I add to from time to time. I also have an “Ideas” file that I’ll use when an inspiration occurs to me, but it’s not time in my story to use it. It’s handy to recall a key word or phrase that is sometimes illusive when I’m actually writing that scene.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Mary, that’s a great way to keep ideas. Maybe I should transfer my ideas from my sticky notes to a computer file! 🙂