"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 working...to 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 jennycrusie.com. "...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"!