Revisiting Collage

I’m at that exciting (yet somehow daunting) stage where I’m trying to decide what to write next. I know the feeling I want the book to have, but I’m not sure about specifics. Since I’m fixing to bust out my collaging skills in an attempt to get a better handle on my story, today I'm revisiting the collage post I wrote while revising my first novel... 
Not long ago [two years ago now] I had a conversation with a writer friend (I’m looking at you, Heather Petty) about the book I’m currently revising. Okay, mostly it was me despairing about my ongoing revisions and her listening patiently. And then she said this:
“If you are slogging through the writing, it will read like slog. You need to find the fun again.”
A few weeks later I stumbled across a post on author Jennifer Crusie's blog in which she described using collage to brainstorm her books.  
     As a costume designer, part of my process included creating a concept board (also known as a mood board, inspiration board or design board)- a collage of images and fabrics that could be used to communicate my design ideas/concept to the rest of the production team. 
The concept board for my MFA thesis project.
Can you guess what show I designed?
It made total sense to me to use this process to explore my ideas for my book. And, more importantly, it sounded FUN!
First, I needed a few supplies:
A foundation- foam core, cardboard, posterboard, scrapbook pages, etc.
Adhesive- glue stick, repositionable tape, glue dots
Stuff- images (from magazines, catalogs, printouts, etc.), embellishments/ephemera
I set off for the craft store in search of one of those science project triptych foam core boards, repositional glue dots and inspiration. I was there for two hours. Partly because I have two small children and any chance to go shopping by myself is like a vacation on a tropical island completely devoid of chattering monkeys, and partly because I was having so much FUN! I let “the Girls in the Basement,” as Crusie calls them, take over and they went a little crazy.
Next, I pulled out all my old magazines and started flipping through, cutting out anything and everything that caught the attention of the Girls. I ended up with a giant pile of stuff.
Fully armed, I cleared off the dining room table and went to work. You know when you lose yourself utterly in your story and time passes and you don’t even notice? I stayed up until 3am building my collage.
I included images and items that spoke to me about my characters, settings, backstory, overall mood, themes or specific moments in the story. When you’re making a collage you’re not necessarily trying to find images that look exactly like your characters, setting, whatever. You’re looking for things that represent them in some way, that express something you want to try to capture when you're writing your story.
It's all in there.
Although I ended up collaging everything on one board, there are no rules with collage. You can work big or small. If you’re using a board with three sections you can use the sections as act breaks, or to focus on different elements of your story. Instead of foam core you can use scrapbook pages as your foundation to make individual collages for your characters (as YA author Tera Lynn Childs explains here), settings, scenes, etc. Once you're finished, you can lay them all out where you can see them while you’re writing, or you can bind them together and flip through them as needed. You can even make color copies and reduce them in size so you can carry them around with you for instant inspiration.
If gluing things down seems too permanent you can try pinning images to a corkboard or tucking them into a ribbon board. There are also lots of ways to create digital collages (Pinterest, anyone?), although I encourage you to try stepping away from the computer not only to give yourself a break from staring at the screen but because it’s easy to get overwhelmed when searching for images online if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, and at the same time, it’s harder to stumble across the stuff you don’t even know you need.
    For some of you, once you’ve made your collage, you’ll be ready to tuck it out of sight and move on. For others, the collage can serve as a touchstone, a cheat sheet you can use to get yourself into the world of your story whenever you have a few spare moments to write. If this works for you, consider using a picture of your collage as your desktop wallpaper so it’s waiting for you as soon as you turn on your computer.

    However you go about making your collage, remember you’re not trying to create a work of art. You’re creating a visual representation of your ideas for your story. You can use collage at any point in your process. 

I’m excited to see how my brainstorming collage compares to one I created in the midst of revisions. I’ll let you know how it goes! And if you decide to try collaging, I’d love to see some of your creations.


I was obsessed with collage art when I was a teenager and in my 20s. I did some larger scale work on canvas, and I always love when I see mixed media and collage in art galleries. There is something to crafting by hand that Pinterest can't offer, though for story inspiration,I mainly gather intel online.

I love making collages! The hardest part is finding images, though, because it takes me FOREVER. I get distracted & read all the magazine articles...even if they're from 1999. How do you get past that?

Cool! I've literally never made a collage. :( I've never even thought about doing it, but this is really a great idea!

I'm totally intrigued by mixed media and collage art and would love to try creating something other than a "book board." But, I am slightly afraid that it would turn me into a total hoarder of collage-able ephemera :)

That's not necessarily a bad thing, is it? The inspiration for your next novel could be lurking in one of those articles...

Hmmm....I will try watching The Walking Dead again (but I reserve the right to squinch my eyes during the gory parts), if you try making a collage. Deal?

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