Using Pinterest As a Research Tool


by Jennie Jarvis

As a fiction writer, most of my job entails making crap up.

Yes, my stories are based in realities, and it’s important for those realties to ring true in the hearts and minds of my readers. Sometimes, this means doing a little traditional research. Lately, I’ve been spending hours watching videos and reading articles on 9/11 for my latest work in progress, striving to make sure that my fictional retelling of that awful day contains as much truth as possible.

But really, at the end of the day, my job relies more on the power of my imagination than on the strength of my Googling skills.


This is especially true when I’m writing fantasy. After all, if I’m creating the world and the characters within it, what can I research? Sure, I might base my world on other cultures, but most of the “truth” of my world has to come from me. And that’s a much more difficult kind of research. Character and World Building involves much more than just seeing what the world has to offer. It involves finding a new truth that doesn’t currently exist anywhere in the world and then making it a reality.

Coming from a film background, I am a visual thinker. So when I’m building my narratives, I find it best to use visual references to help me. In order to do this, I’ve experimented with a variety of tools to help me, and I’ve discovered that the most powerful research tools for me is actually Pinterest.


Pinterest is a social networking site that allows you to “pin” visuals from all over the internet into one location, which the site calls a Board. While this site has the reputation for being the place where “chicks go to plan weddings and crap,” it is actually a very powerful tool for writers.

When I’m building my worlds or my characters, Pinterest allows me to pull together images from all over the internet into one cohesive place. Having all those images on one board allows me to see the connections between those images and turn those various images into one comprehensive landscape or character.

Take for instance, this excerpt from one of my boards below:

Screenshot 2016-07-25 10.35.43


This is part of a board I built for a novel of mine which is currently out on submission. One of the characters was a famous movie star back in the 1980s, and she has, in many ways, never left that era. She still considers herself a star, even though she now lives in a decrepit mansion in Florida. As a result, her wardrobe is very outdated, reflecting the era in which she was famous.

I’m a moron when it comes to fashion, so I needed help when it came to figuring out the kinds of clothes my character would wear. So I looked up clothes from the 1980s and pulled them all together on this board. It really helped me describe my character’s wardrobe while I was writing. In fact, that ugly patchwork sweater even made it into my book!

If you want to see more of my board for that narrative, you will have to wait until after the novel has been published. One of the best things about Pinterest is that the boards can be listed as “secret” so no one can see them. This gives me the freedom to really build my stories without worrying if someone will “steal” my ideas based on the images I’ve compiled.

I have to admit, I wish Pinterest would let me reorganize images once I have them pinned to a board, but in the current version of the site, I have not found a way to be able to do this.


Other than this issue, though, I’ve found Pinterest to be a great way to create all kinds of narratives. Whether it be a fantasy screenplay about witches who live in a university setting:


Or writing a realistic historical Jane Austin style romance that takes place in a quaint English cottage:



Pinterest is a great research tool for the imagination.

Have you ever used Pinterest to help your writing? How did it work for you?


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  1. #1 by Steven A. Guglich on August 1, 2016 - 10:24 pm

    Thank you! I’ve heard about so many writers using Pinterest as a resource for their writing, but no one has ever really explained it as well as you. Great article!

  2. #2 by lorraineambers on August 11, 2016 - 6:46 am

    My novel is a fantasy, Pinterest has been invaluable to me. I’ve been able to develope the world & characters through visual concepts. I love Pinterest! I wish I knew how to use it as a social platform, that I struggle with.

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