Wednesday, June 19, 2013

3 Reasons You Might Want to Build a Collage

"Try using visual form to free your novel ideas. Then watch as the images guide and inspire your words." --Leah Tribolo

My WIP was progressing pretty well until...well, until it dried up. My wheels were stuck, the words stopped. And then I realized what was wrong. I couldn't "see" a character in the scene.

I knew my main character. I had her picture in front of me. I had other images, too--setting ideas, mood triggers, details I wanted to draw from. But something was missing.

And then I knew. It was time to build a collage. It's something I did for my first MG historical fiction--and had great fun doing, actually--images that settled somewhere deep and felt real. Inspiration. Imagination. Visualization.

Yes, I knew what was wrong this second time around. It was time to build a collage...

What is a collage, and why is it a useful tool for the novel writer?

A collage is:

1. A Visual Encyclopedia. "Writers are artists. Our medium of expression is words. Like any art form, writing is about communication. Since humans do not exist in isolation, the ideas we have are not unique. Indeed, in this Information Age, we are bombarded with others' ideas. The originality of our art is in how we choose to express our creativity. This makes collage an ideal writing tool. Collage gives the author a visual encyclopedia to reference while writing." --Leah Tribolo, Create a Writing Collage

2. A Spark. "Using visuals can...spark ideas not directly related to specifics of what you are writing or seeing, but of that elusive third thing that you may sense is missing but aren't sure what it is or how to find it. Use visuals to get your imagination add depth, texture, and even new out-of-YOUR-box ideas for your writing. Add aspects to your writing and story that you don't yet know exists." --Kathy Steffen, How to Write Shop

3. Prewriting. "There is a time before I begin a book that I panic," says Jennifer Crusie at "...I don't know everything that's going to happen in the story, I don't understand the characters...( I feel) the book is going to be a disaster...but I've found a way to get started that doesn't terrify me but that does open up the story and make me want to write: I make a collage." Ms. Cruise (terrific article in full, by the way, if you want to read more details) goes on to say how "this is hardly" her discovery, and she lists other writers who use this technique.

I think subconsciously I'm always looking for collage images--through my camera, in faces that speak to me in newspaper and magazine articles, in an object that catches my interest and I'm not sure just why, or a google search based on a word that I can't shake loose. I build files up as I go; the collage does not come fully complete at the beginning. And then one day I spread all the bits and pieces out in front of me, and an overall picture unfolds.

The focus of a collage can vary. Tribolo speaks of character profiles, structure, clarification (particularly theme). She points out that you might notice recurring colors or imagery which suggest the mood you want to set. "Perhaps," she suggests, "you keep cutting out pictures that will make powerful metaphors within your setting."

"With practice," she concludes, "collage can become an essential tool in your writing arsenal, saving you time by providing information and inspiration in a condensed visual form."

So what do you say? Have you experimented with collages? If not, do you see yourself attempting one to see if it's helpful? Just think, as Ms. Crusie says, "the story you're meant to write (might be) just a glue stick away"!


  1. What an interesting idea. I've never heard of this before. I do "culture collages" in my diversity course, and it does help the students (and me) zero in on the meaning of culture. So I know the power of collected images. This is something I will have to consider. Thanks for the idea!

    1. Peggy,

      I'm intrigued by the idea of culture collages--I bet there's some great artistry in that kind of picture! Collages are a neat idea overall, in my opinion. I remember back in high school they were a big thing--friends would make collages depicting friendship and inspiration. My best friend and I exchanged gifts that way once. Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way suggest making a collage that represents your "pictorial autobiography," including past, present, and future. I did that once, too, and still have it here somewhere. I think anything that oils the creativity wheels is helpful :-)

  2. A visual collage of settings, characters, events and so on--maybe even some dream imagery could elicit idea sparks. It could be a form of visual mind-mapping.

    What I would dearly love is a storyboard--a linear visual for each scene, so that I can get in my head what happens and when. Sure, once I've revised a work several times, I have a good idea of where everything is. Unless I moved it!

    I saw recently where just such a tool can be purchased, for $190. I'm not opposed to the price, but the video demo looked like the storyboard would take time to put together, even though the sellers said it was a snap.

    So I think I'll just print up a list of scenes and have it handy instead.

    For me, the very best way to get ideas for my WIP, and to understand the thematic sweep of the story on all four levels is the use of Dramatica. It makes novel writing so very much fun.

    For people who are more right brained than I am, the companion software, StoryWeaver, is more useful, and a lot less expensive.

    1. Cathy,

      You're always so helpful to direct us to helpful writing resources. I know I've made notes from a number of your reviews on your blog. Thanks for telling us about Dramatica and StoryWeaver. A storyboard for each scene? That's something I hadn't considered before, but thanks for the idea.

      I need to look into mind-mapping, too. How is that different from clustering? I've done some work with that concept.

    2. I've been trying to storyboard - not easy for someone like me who tends to just let the story flow. I've been wondering about combining the collage with the storyboard idea. Maybe the two together would work for me. I only hope I don't get so caught up in all the other creative stuff that I don't get any writing done! :)

    3. Kenda, I think mind-mapping and clustering are the same thing.

  3. Kenda, my book too was progressing well, now its kind of dried up. I too am doing lots of pre-writing to get a grip on why each character is behaving the way they are.

    1. Good luck, Rachna, as you go deeper, too. Cheering you on as you go!

      And thanks, Cathy, for stopping back in. I though maybe mind-mapping and clustering were about the same, but hadn't taken time to really check it out :-)

      Have a great weekend, everyone....

  4. Glad you found my article in Writer's Digest to be helpful! I still use pictures and graphics to help me with mist projects!

  5. Leah, thanks so much for dropping by, glad to "meet" you--and thanks again for your helpful article. I'm sure it has helped many writers in their writing journeys. Great advice. I'm still benefiting by it... :-)