Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

Workshop: Create a Writing Collage

by Leah Tribolo
2004, Leah Tribolo
(Originally published in Writer's Digest)

Freeing Your Novel Ideas Creatively

Try using visual form to free your novel ideas.  Then, watch as the images guide and inspire your words.

What is a Writer?

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 encyclopaedia to reference while writing.  Start the process of putting your novel ideas onto paper with collage.

It will help you:

  • Visualise characters through character profiles.
  • Structure major events in a novel.
  • Clarify central themes, mood and issues.


What is Collage?

Collage is a technically simple, visual art form.  It uses different forms of media, such as magazine clippings, to generate an image. There are no rules with collage -- not even the writing commandment to be internally consistent. 

Since we are using collage to keep track of our own ideas, it is not necessary that our collage have ascetic appeal.  Our collages must only reflect what we would like to remember and express when writing.

The following are essential materials for collage making:

  • Scissors
  • Posterboard
  • Gluestick
  • A pile of old magazines, and other material you have that relates to your novel characters, themes, and/or issues.  (Use your imagination: felt pen, paint, shells, photos, etc.  Whatever inspires you!)

With your pile of magazines at hand, begin by cutting out material relevant to your characters, themes and events to occur in your novel.  (I also cut out material that interests me and then use it as a brainstorming aid.) 

After you have sufficient visual information or have exhausted your supply of creative material, divide it and organise into categories, such as:

  • Character imagery
  • Major events
  • Overall moods and themes

To organise your categories, keep them in file folders or pinned on a bulletin board until you are ready to create the collages.

Character Profiles

To begin your character profiles, paste picture(s) of the desired character onto the posterboard and any imagery you have that provides characterisation, such as a hat, ring or specific posture.  Where does he come from?  Can you find a picture that shows his history?  The care you take in creating your character will be reflected in your writing.

As your novel progresses, your profiles should change.  Paste a new picture over the old, or keep the old in the centre of the picture and paste around in an outward spiral as your character grows.

In conjunction with character profiles, it is effective to create a sociogram.  This is a diagram showing how people are interconnected.  A collage dedicated to this is essential.  Take a picture of each of the main characters and assemble them on posterboard linking them with felt and a few words about how they and other recurring characters are interconnected.  This will be a valuable reference when trying to remember who is who and why.


Structuring the major events to occur is part of the novel planning process.  Using a timeline with collage is a powerful tool.  A timeline allows us to sequentially order our thoughts, while the visual aspects of collage allow us to accomplish with the verbal minimum what will occur at the turning points in our novels.

Make a timeline on some posterboard and paste pictures that help you remember what is to occur at major turning points.  The pictures will aid you in remembering essential details.  They also provide a visual prompt for the mood occurring in your novel at different times.


Collage is useful in clarifying central themes, issues and mood.  Begin, again, with a posterboard and work from there with imagery that speaks to you of your ideas.  If you decide you do not like something, it is simplicity itself to remove the offending image or glue over it with another. 

As you gather information for your novel, you might notice recurring colours or imagery, which suggest the mood for you to set in your novel.  Perhaps you keep cutting out pictures that will make powerful metaphors within your novel setting.  Or perhaps you run across topics that you feel are "bigger picture" issues that could serve well as backdrops for your story.  (War, genetic engineering or colonial America are all good examples.)

And more...

Collage can seem time-consuming until you are used to collecting the images and materials.  But once you are, collage will also help you:

  • Retain ideas you are currently unable to pursue.
  • Decide on a cover format (Perhaps you have a picture that reflects a character or theme of your novel.)
  • Brainstorm future novel ideas.

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