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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, March 20, 2008


All this plot talk has me jittery ;) I am a pantser, absolutely. I start with an idea and run with it, until I hit a wall, then I stop. I’ve tried the index cards, but once I write them, I never look at them again.

So to focus, I make a collage.

I know some people use the organic method, where they just go through a stack of magazines and rip out whatever appeals, then see how things can relate to their stories. They claim to find ideas in this manner, twists to the story that they didn’t expect, as if their muse prompted them to tear out those pictures.

I do my collage about half way into the story. By then I have a pretty good idea of who my characters are, but the story needs focus, needs connections, and where the pictures go gives it that connection, gives deeper meaning to the objects I place in the collage. It also helps me sequence the story – what should happen when, what needs to happen before something else can happen.

I always start my story with a physical picture of my hero and heroine, usually based on actors. I print out those pictures, as many as I feel I need, ones I feel fit my characters. For example, I wouldn’t get a picture of my heroine/actress in an evening gown unless that character wears an evening gown on some occasion. Gerard Butler in Tomb Raider fit my hero in Beneath the Surface, but his appearance in Reign of Fire fit my hero in Don’t Look Back.

Then I think about what’s important to the character. Does my heroine have a cherished piece of jewelry? Does my hero have something that reminds him of his family, his past? I google images and print.

I think about what kind of house they live in and search for that. I think about what they drive, where they are. If it’s a real place, I find a map so I can reference it while I’m writing. If it’s not, I find pictures of what I think the place will be like. I’ve not yet created my own maps because, well, my class could tell you I can’t draw at all.

Once I have my pictures, I buy those science fair display boards (JoAnn Fabric has them for reasonable prices.) I get my glue stick and my scissors and I cut and arrange, then glue. Then I prop my board up to look at while I’m writing.

I’ve also made some digital collages, though to be honest, I wouldn’t know how to do it on a Windows machine. I used to use AppleWorks before the dh upgraded to Leopard, and now I use Pages. Again, I find the pictures, but drag them onto the document. These actually do work well as “book covers” on my notebooks. (I buy the binders with the clear covers and insert my collage, then print out the story to put within – easier to keep track of.)

I prefer the scissors and glue collage, because you have different parts of your brain working on the story as you physically put it together.

Do you collage? How do you do it?

More articles on collages:

Jennifer Crusie

Vision Workshop

My digital collage for my Wayback Rodeo story.

Taylor Kitsch

My digital collage for my WIP.


My physical collage for my WIP.


My collage for Hot Shot. I used maps and pictures of Montana and fires to help me focus.


My collage for my 2006 Nano book. I’m hoping it will help me revise. It certainly helped me change who the hero was.


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At 5:37 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Mary -

I love collages, but then I've been a professional artist my whole life and work on a small amount of personal art (writing has taken the first time slot these days "g"). You have great suggestions on using collages for working through your plot.

Although I'm a type-A that has to work out all the complicated threads of my plot so I can relax and write the scenes, but I also love the stream-of-conscience writing days.

I have several collages for different books and add to them as I work on a story. When I look for character images I'm more interested in the expressions (something about their eyes and mouth that captures their personality) on their face than pretty much anything else.

Good subject for a plotting month.
Dianna (glad you posted early since I won't be back today)

At 5:54 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Mary -

I had to come back to say Congrats on your first book - WHERE THERE'S SMOKE - hitting the shelves right now! It's on my list to pick up today so I'll get a first hand look at how you used collaging.


At 7:14 AM, Blogger Marianne Arkins said...

I use digital collaging, mostly because I don't have any magazines to get pictures from! I only subscribe to ones like Womans Day, so unless I'm writing about chicken casserole, I'm kinda out of luck.

But I LOVE to digital collage. I put it up as wallpaper on my computer. And, it's easy to do in Windows -- just use Power Point.

Pretty palimino in your Wayback collage. I wonder if it says something about me that I focused on the horse, and not the hero. Hmmm... :-)

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

I know people rage about how helpful this all is....Quite frankly, I could see myself eating up hours and hours of time surfing the net looking for just the right image.

Bonnie Vanak, whose work I love, has mentioned that collaging helped her plot out her book.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger SFWriter said...

Good morning, Mary!

I start my collages with the location, whether real or imaginary. I need to "travel" to my story-place. I create a background that will help me focus, a sort of mental gate into my story-world.

Then I add details as they come to me, either pictures I come across on the Web, or in magazines, or images I look for. I'll even add found objects if they fit. Being a bit of a geek, I play with my graphics software and edit the images I find when they don't quite "say" what I want or have the color I need.

I always end up lacking people, though, but that's me. I can never find the right look to represent my characters. Or if I do, it's a distance shot, so the features are not so detailed they distract me from my actual character.

I think my collages are more in the way of symbolic representations than yours. I'd be intimidated by all the people staring back at me.


At 9:20 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Mary, I did my first collage with my currect WIP and the only thing I did differently was write the eye color and age, etc., next to the picture of the characters. The collage has helped to keep me focused.

Great blog and congratulations on your book being out!!!

At 1:14 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Well, Mary, you had me sold on the Gerard Butler in Tombraider, Gerard Butler in Reign of Fire....

I do my own version of collaging, sorta like Theresa described, all online with bits of backstory, physical details, along with the images. I also use pictures of real houses to "play" my characters' houses, but I could get lost forever searching the National Heritage sites in the UK.

Marianne, I will have to explore how to do collages in Power Point. What a concept.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Great collages, Mary! I'm very impressed.

And I'm so glad you posted the link to Jenny Crusie's article. She does a brilliant job of hers. She has also posted some photos on her blog. You'll find one of Jenny’s collages here and collages by other writers here.

As for doing them myself, I have to confess that I'm with Gillian on this one. I would get totally carried away and spend untold hours on a project like this, until I got it just right.

I do use images when I'm working on a book, but they're usually things like a picture torn from a magazine that I pin above my computer.

The hero in WITH THIS RING has an Old English Sheepdog named Max. When I wrote that book, I kept a little plastic model of an OES on my desk. It's still here, and it's kind of become my good luck charm!

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

I can't see doing it -- the closest I got was to stick a bunch of TV Guides in a drawer in case I wanted inspiration for characters or descriptions. I'd spend precious writing time playing with pictures. If I travel, I take my digital camera and snap pictures of the scenery, etc., but they're filed in my computer. Would probably drive me nuts trying to put them all into a collage.

Yet another 'thing to try' to add to my 'things to try someday' list. But when I'm writing, I do better by writing. I have all the bits and pieces for storyboarding stuck behind the couch, too.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

What I'm liking about our blogging this year is the sharing of all the "tools" we have in our toolbox. We don't all use the same ones, but it is good to know that they are there if we need them.

At 6:20 PM, Blogger MaryF said...

It occurs to me I used the word "focus" a lot in that blog ;)

I'd love to see your collages, Dianna. I love the idea of using expressions. And thanks for the congratulations! I just found out yesterday it's on Amazon as a Kindle download.

Marianne, like you, I don't get a lot of magazines (LOL on writing about recipes!) I google image most of my stuff and print it out. Used to be nice when I had a good printer....

I am concerned that you focused more on the horse ;)

Gillian, it is time consuming - usually an evening or a Saturday morning. But the whole time you're doing it, you're thinking about what you know about your story and what you need to know about it.

Masha, I loved your collage article in the SARA newsletter! I like the people staring back at me ;)

Thanks, Theresa! I'd like to see your collage, too. How did you do it?

LOL, Diane, I thought I'd get you with Gerry ;) The houses are VERY important to me. I can't draw worth ANYTHING, so it helps me to have visual representations to block the scenes. I usually go in with some idea, but I'm flexible with what I find.

Lee, I have physical representations of my stories, too! I have a plastic fire extinguisher, a penguin and rhinos. My big thing is charms, though. Talk about spending HOURS looking for something!!!

Terry, if the story is going well for me, yes, I write. It's when I stall that I take the time out to reevaluate and spend a good chunk of time figuring out what could be missing, what I don't know. I like to put my hands on my book sometimes, which means I either need to write long hand or do index cards or do a collage to make it real for me.

Diane, exactly so!

At 7:51 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Mary, I just cut pictures from magazines and used a glue stick and poster board. I also cut out words and sayings like "Food" and "Hollywood" "Only you" anything to do with my story. Heroine works for a cooking magazine and hero's nickname is Hollywood...and so on. Too bad we can't add pictures to our comments...

I agree, Diane, blogging this year has been fun. I enjoy learning how other writers do things and then sometimes trying their tricks of the trade!

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Mary, I like your suggestion for working on a collage when the writing has stalled. Which it invariably does. Excellent advice.

Part of me wishes I was a collager because I think it would be very cool to have a collage for each published book.

At 6:59 AM, Blogger MaryF said...

Theresa, I agree! I would love to see pictures!

Lee, I only started collaging a couple of years ago. I did the Hot Shot collage after all those rounds of edits that made it not my story anymore - I needed to get back to the basics!

At 8:41 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I have never done this before, but my BFF swears by it. She has done collages for each of the characters in her YA. I need to try this when I am mulling over the places where I am stuck.


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