If you’ve visited Jenny Crusie’s ArghInk recently, you’ve seen the most recent collage she’s been creating for a new writing project. If you haven’t seen it, you really should go take a look. It involves carpentry, painting, pictures. It’s a 3-dimensional peek into the story world she and collaborators are creating.
Collage was one of the story discovery tools we discussed during our McDaniel coursework. This is a picture of the collage I did for My Girls during our discovery module. Note that it’s in 2-D. It isn’t fabulous or beautiful or awe-inspiring. It involves simple cut-out pictures and phrases arranged in groupings. But that collage hangs in my office to this day, and even though I’ve revised the story and not the collage, it provides a touchstone when I need to recapture a particular mood or element of the story.
I am one of the least visually artistic people I know. As proof of that, I point you again to the picture of my (not) fancy collage. My lack of talent in the visual arts kept me from collaging for story discovery for years. But once I tried it, I learned the most important thing about a visual depiction of your story: it’s not about the aesthetic, it’s about making your brain come at the story from a different perspective. For me, that new perspective came from those groupings. Not the ‘what’ of them, but the ‘why’. Figuring out why I’d put elements where I had helped me clarify character relationships and arcs. Trying to decipher one particular choice I’d made for the group of pictures in the lower right-hand corner inspired a really crappy poem from the POV of one of the antagonists, which in turn made me realize one of the minor characters had actually died before the beginning of the book’s timeline.
A few weeks ago, I created an even less beautiful (no, I will not call it ugly) visual representation of one of the places in my book to help me block out scene revisions. It’s a picture (using the term loosely) of The Thirsty Horse Saloon, which is owned by one of the main characters and is where both the first and last scenes take place. The image of that place has lived inside my head for years, but ‘drawing’ it made me consider the size and proportion of the place. Referencing the picture while I revised those two scenes, which mirror each other in many ways, forced me to think about how the characters would have to move through that space.
While I have not included a detailed description in the story and readers’ images of it will be their own, I have included little details in each scene to make the space seem more real. For example, I had to decide whether there are windows in the Thirsty Horse (there are not), and how that would affect the lighting at night (first scene) and the in the daytime (last scene) differently. I even drew a representation of the neon sign out front, denoted by the green highlighted box (there is no end to the fanciness, I tell you!). Because the actual (in my head) sign features a neon outline of a horse with legs that ‘run’ (which would explain why the horse is thirsty), that box is obviously just a mental placeholder for my brain.
I envy the artistically talented sketch artists/painters/sculptors/collagers who make pieces of art as part of the discovery and rediscovery phases of their books. I will never be one of them. But I don’t need fancy artwork for my office (I have a dragon!),I just need as many tools as possible to help my stories come alive and then help me transfer them to the page. Do you collage your stories? Build cool structures for them? What tools have you used to ‘visualize’ story?