Collaging at Cherry Con

There is no one right way to collage for fiction writing, no one way a collage should look as the Cherries demonstrated at the Collage Pizza Pajama Party we had at Cherry Con. We started at six with pizza, scissors, glue, and every old magazine and catalog I had at my house and could fit in my car. I had colored cardboard so they could give themselves a headstart by picking the color that best fit their book, a good way to move out of left brain thinking and into right. I told them to flip through the magazines and find things that felt like the book, not pictures that illustrated it but things that felt like their stories. Then I gave them scissors, bowls of Elmer’s glue and brushes, scotch tape, and the rest of the night to work and they got down to it, working late into the night and some returning to their work the next day. There are always those who think I’m nuts but give it a shot anyway, and they’re always the biggest converts to the process, but everybody found something in their work. Here are four with comments:

From Brooke Brannon:


The CherryCon collage showed me the path through the story, which I didn’t have before. And it’s so obvious – it’s in the damn myth! – but I was focusing so much on plot and blah blah blah that I didn’t see it before. Finding pictures that resonated with me, and then playing with them until they made a sort of nonverbal sense, showed me the throughline of the story.

From Molly Haselhorst:


I have to say that I’m finding it was eerily revealing. The more I’m working on this book, the more I’m, realizing The Collage Knew That. It’s almost creeping me out. For that to work, I think it required the time limit– that mad, late-night, glue everywhere assembly process. (The wine may have been important, too).

From Chandra Years:


I’m with Molly. I’ve never tried collage before, and this was a story I was stalled on. But the collage has really opened it up – and thanks to the collage, I’m realizing water has a lot to do with the story. I already had a scene set at the beach, but now there’s water, water everywhere and it’s encapsulated in the picture of the slightly sinister pool, plus the picture of Shia LaBeouf throwing the pail of water – anyway, it’s all swirling around my head even if I’m not being very articulate about it yet. The best thing is that I’m no longer stalled and words are actually forming on the computer screen. So that’s good.

From Betsy Hanes Perry:


The collage mostly helped because it made me realize that Clarissa was furious. That picture in the middle is important, the girl with the curly hair with the knife. It looks nothing like Clarissa, but it is her. And I realized that so far Clarissa had been the passive victim, while in fact she was absolutely livid and she needed to be acting on that anger. The guy with the blindfold, again, is telling me something about the Emperor I haven’t pinned down yet. (Note the matching girl with the blindfold in the lower right hand corner. She’s much easier to interpret.) And I like the snake. I have no idea what it’s doing. It was a dragon when I cut it out of the magazine, but now it’s a snake. With diamonds. The biggest thing I took away as far as technique goes is that I’d strongly, strongly encourage hypercritical people like me to collage with a distraction in place. That way, you can’t obsess over whether you’re doing it exactly right; you just paste and go on. My home collages failed because I was trying too hard to get it right and the subconscious couldn’t kick in.

You can see the books in these collages, feel the kind of stories they’re going to be. And since these are just the beginnings, since the writers will layer on more images, add more things, the collages will grow in complexity as the books are layered. Collages, like stories, are works in progress, conduits to the hidden parts of stories as they unfold. That’s why they’re so powerful.

And so much fun to look at.

26 thoughts on “Collaging at Cherry Con

  1. I’ve got mine hanging up on my office wall, and whenever I get freaked out about plot – whether it’s the plot in the Persephone story, which is the myth I’m retelling, or the plot in the contemporary I’m writing – I look at the collage and see that path through the story and think, “I know what the story is. I just don’t know I know yet.”

  2. These look fabulous! They make me interested in the stories behind the pictures.

    My only problem with collages is that once I’ve glued something in place, I immediately realize that it would be much better over here. But I’m stuck with it. (Literally)

    Thanks for showing these collages.

  3. Thanks for posting collages. I had a great time collaging at Cherry Con! Mine is sitting behind my desk, because the only place to hang it, means I’d have to hang it sideways. (Pause while I locate a hole punch and a nail.)
    Ha! but that’s perfect! Since the whole story seems a bit sideways. And since I’ll continue to add to it anyway.
    But I’m also noticing how happy everyone looks in it. Aargh. Same problem I’m having in my WIP. Can’t seem to get the antagonist, or anybody multi-dimensional. What’s wrong with my subconscious?
    Well, NaNoWriMo might help with that, cuz I’m writing so fast who knows whats next. and it feels like first draft writing at its finest.
    And my neighbor just brought me old magazines. Maybe I’ll find someone a little less happy in Martha Stewart Living? Aargh.

  4. Mary,
    You can always use removable double sided tape, then you can move the images around.
    What a great right-brained idea. I haven’t tried collage, but now I will. Thanks Jenny.

  5. Ooh verra nice! It’s amazing how much we already know about our stories but don’t realize. I just updated Curio and am having fun – thanks so much for the inspiration!!

  6. I’ve always wanted to collage a story but I’ve never had either the right story or the nerve (I’m one of those hypercritical people) but I’m floundering around in my NaNoWriMo story so I’m off to the store right now to get the stuff I need.

  7. Thanks so much for posting these. They’re really wonderful. I remember one other collage from Cherry Con in particular that so strongly evoked a feeling of space (not outer space) that it was really powerful. My Cherry Con collage images are waiting in a bag for me to get back to that story, since I’ve set it aside to do NaNoWriMo, but I firmly believe in the power of collage, and have started working on it for my NaNo story. The right brain can be sooooo powerful. And repositionable tape/glue is a miracle.

  8. My Nano group is collaging tomorrow. They were pretty interested in the one I brought back from the Con. I think I really needed to just sit down and do it. I’d been collecting pictures for a while, but never put them down because I didn’t want to commit to anything “too early.” But I see now that if I’d done it earlier it would have helped.

    I think the most important thing I got from that part of the Con was to remember that I wasn’t illustrating the book. Once I let that go it just started flowing, _and_ I ended up with more images than I had space for. And that was after I left all the other imaged I’d had at home.

    I love the idea of repositionable tape. But I also remembered Jenny said that if I want to move something later, I _can_ just cut it out and move it. It’s for me.

  9. These are gorgeous, thank you for sharing. I’m fairly new to collaging, but thanks to Jenny I now can’t write effectively without doing one. Wish I could have been at Crusie Con but I had a houseful of guests, it sure sounded like a lot of fun. I’m going up to Bob’s retreat next week … somehow I don’t think collaging will be in his syllabus.

  10. OMG I hadn’t realized, that is too funny. Well, maybe it’s just a girl thing and a way we visualize our stories, but I’m sticking with it. I’m sure guys do the same but through visions of movie scenes playing in their heads. I mean think of Bob and his references to Westerns. Same thing, different art form.

  11. I’ve discovered that sometimes things you think are pasted into the wrong place are actually serendipitous little nudges from the brain, telling me that images I thought belonged to one character actually worked better in the context of another.

    And I love how scenes and conversations erupted in my head when I butted together pictures that I previously thought had nothing to do with one another.

    Finally, it can’t be an accident, can it, that between finishing my collage last night and waking at 5 a.m. with some more ideas for it, I had an extremely realistic dream in which I won one-third of $11 million dollars? Hoo-ha!

  12. :Sigh: It’s hard to collage a ghost story when all you have in the house are gardening and outdoor/hunting/fishing magazines and the library only has old Newsweeks in the give-away box.

  13. Here’s a picture you could use in your ghost story collage. I’ve got a ghost in my current story, but this image doesn’t fit it. It’s from an interview with Jodi Picoult about her book “Second Glance”. If you go to her website and click books, then Second Glance, then go to read her interview, you’ll see it there.

    And maybe if you do a google image search you can find others that suit. Or go bug your neighbors and see if you can steal all their old magazines. 🙂

  14. Picked up a Psychology Today and on the front cover is a woman looking very twisted, grim but powrful,in control, pretty darn satisfied… and she’s holding a good sized saw, with which she’d just sliced the bench she’s sitting on in two, and dumped the guy beside her. Perfect! Gotta love collaging.

  15. Jenny, since you mentioned working with Bob on outlining Wild Ride, I wondered if you two were also going to do another dueling blog?

    Don’t forget thrift stores are also a great place to find magazines for collaging. I’d rather spend a quarter on a magazine that’s going to get butchered anyway.

  16. My memory is shot. Sorry. I think you answered that question on more than one occasion. Just ignore the doddering old lady.

  17. Question about collage.

    I did one at Desert Dreams, my first one, and it was as great and helpful as everyone says. I’d love to do more, but how do you accumulate the raw material? Without spending next month’s grocery money, I mean.

  18. As soon as I get a solid idea for a book, even if I’m not going to write it for years, I get a box for that book and start tossing in anything that I find that reminds me of it. Once I’m ready to start, I hit Google Images and Yotophoto and do key word searches–ghost, amusement park, whatever–and stockpile those images. And then I hit craft stores and Goodwill stores, too. Getting the stuff is part of the brainstorming process, the “that, not that” part that helps you firm up the idea of the book in your brain.

  19. I got a surfer I met on the beach to let me take a picture of his tattoo– it was a gorgeous grim reaper on his calf. Embarrassing, but worth it.

    Goodwill stores are a great idea. Really, I’m realizing that my story is everywhere I look, which I guess is the point. I love this “follow-the-urge” approach for channeling the girls in the basement.


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