Mona Voelkel

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Inspire Writing with Toys, Mood Boards, and Graphic Organizers

Writing picture books can be a daunting task but using toys, mood boards, and graphic organizers can inspire, enrich, and guide your writing during all stages of the writing process.

Find Your Main Character (or Inspiration) at the Toy/Book Store

I love roaming around toy stores searching for a main character to star in my next story. Recently, I visited the wonderful Sleepy Hollow Bookshop and it was the box these animals came in that inspired me.

I can’t wait to create a story character diorama based on the box design.

Bring Your Character to Life

Sometimes I like to bring my main character to life before or during the writing process. You can make a quick sketch, as I did when trying to get to know Stanley for my picture book, Stanley and the Wild Words. You can also create a 3-dimensional character out of whatever materials you have on hand in order to create a paper, cloth or sculpted character. Here is the rag doll I sewed, from an Etsy pattern, to create my main character, Jolly Molly. Creating the character inspired me to think about what it would be like to have a smile permanently painted on your face, a condition that felt somehow relatable. The pattern called for the rag doll to hold a sweet little bag so I added Jolly Molly’s bag into the plot of the story. I sometimes read my work-in-progress to Jolly Molly and though she never gives any advice, her presence always inspires.

Make a Mood Board 

Make a collage, by hand or digitally, to represent the characters, places and things in your story. Include the title and sub-title and your story inspirations. Choose background and font colors that best represent the mood and theme. This mood board can provide inspiration during the writing process and serve as an illustration for your final draft or social media/ blog post, as above.

Complete a “Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Finally Chart

After receiving feedback on an early draft of Jolly Molly, I wrote a new draft but it was very different from my original. I was confused about the direction I wanted the story to take. Completing a “Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Finally” Chart (Kylene Beers, 2003)

helped give me the clarity and focus I needed to revise.

Map Emotions and Dramatic Structure Using Freytag’s Pyramid and Emojis

I like to use Freytag’s Pyramid to “test” the plot and tension of my story events along this visual representation of narrative structure. Is each story event building tension leading to the climax? Is the climax where the main character reaches (or fails to reach) their goal? Is the climax the true turning point in plot, themes and ideas? When I plotted my Jolly Molly story, I realized that the real climax or turning point came later in the story than I initially realized. I had mistaken a very emotional scene prior to the climax for the actual climax so if that wasn’t clear to me it probably won’t be as clear as it could be to my reader. After the next rewrite, I will return to my graphic organizer and map the plot again. You’ll notice that I use sticky notes so that can be easily removed from my pyramid.I also like to use handwritten emojis or emoji cards to track the internal journey of my character as my plot usually reflects the external journey.

Writing Invitation: Create or use a toy, mood board or graphic organizer to inspire, enrich or guide your writing. What props, toys or graphic organizers do you already use to inspire writing? Please comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Interested in an author visit or personalized writing workshop? Contact me at Happy Writing!


Sleepy Hollow Bookshop

Link to Etsy Ragdoll Pattern

Playmeo Emoji Cards

Beers, K. (2003). When kids can’t read: What teachers can do. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Glatch, Sean. “The 5 Stages of Freytag’s Pyramid: Introduction to Dramatic Structure.”, 30 July 2021,

Allen, Jennifer. “Story Maps for Reflection In the Midst of Drafting” Choice Literacy . Retrieved 1/20/22.

Link to Canva Story Mountain Template:

3 Responses

  1. I really like that chart – Somebody/Wanted/But/So/Finally. It looks so simple, but as you know it’s hard to write good story arcs. This chart will help me craft better stories. Thanks!

    1. You are so welcome, Marie! I used this chart with my students to help them summarize but find it helpful as a writing tool, too! Another tool that I like is”Color/Symbol/Image!”
      I tried to weave that into the mood board. Thanks so much for letting me know. Good luck with your writing projects.

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