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Tip Tuesday #82

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where blog readers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send one in, now's a good time. E-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Hi guys!! Hope you're all having a lovely Tuesday. I sent off my culminating study for school this morning, and I'm heading out tomorrow on vacation, so I'm feeling pretty great. I have another fabulous tip from Lisa Nowak to share with you today. Please visit her at her blog, The Tao of Webfoot.

Making a Character Collage

Skeptical? I was too. Forget all that artsy-fartsy stuff, let’s get to the story! But after writing four books with the same characters, I was faced with starting from scratch on my latest manuscript. That left me feeling a little lost. How the heck did I do it all those years ago?

Fortunately, I remembered something I’d seen on Stina Lindenblatt’s blog about creating a character collage. She initially wasn’t so hot on the idea, either, but she said it really helped her get in touch with her characters.


While Stina used magazines, I quickly rejected that idea. All I could find were a couple of those muscle rags they slip in your bag at GNC when you aren’t looking and some Road and Tracks my husband was throwing away. Surely the Internet had something better to offer!

I started out by going to stock photo sites looking for a secondary character. I’d been trying to describe him and realized I didn’t have a good picture in my head. After pouring through tons of photos (i.e. wasting three hours), I found one I liked. I used the “print screen” feature to make a copy. Looking at it compelled me to know more about him, to want to write his story. That got me hooked, and I started looking for others. I realized I wasn’t limited to the stock photos, which you often have to pay for unless you want a watermark smack in the middle of the photo. I also used Google Images and typed in traits like “long black hair”.

Once I identified my characters and touched them up in Photoshop to deal with things like the wrong eye color or those pesky watermarks, I started finding images that represented the characters past, hobbies, and traits. I got a piece of foam core and arranged everything on it. (If you want to be really deep, you can mess around with symbolism here. For example, a cell phone represents a special connection between two of my characters, so I made the image of the phone overlap the photos of those characters.) I gave each character his or her own corner of the foam core, with the protagonist in the middle.

Be sure you lay everything out before you start gluing it down. I realized after I was done that, had I positioned two characters beside each other, one of the items that has meaning for both of them could have been used to join them. You’d think I would have learned from that cell phone….

Love this! Thank you so much, Lisa.


Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

What a fun idea! I'm probably a little too impatient to do this, but I love the idea of it!

Jessie Harrell said...

I have a cork board that I tack (no glue for me!) images to - I like to know what my characters look like and what clothes, shoes, sunglasses,etc they like to wear (virtual shopping spree). I'll also include some setting pictures. For me it's fun and sometimes help spark my brain when I need to do more showing and less telling.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great idea. I've heard of it but never tried it. Thanks for sharing how to use the internet to do it.

Kelley said...

Just listed your blog on my newest blog post as a blog I have to check regularly.


I love reading about writing tips and your recommendations. Keep up the good work!

Laila Knight said...

I hate to say it, but I never thought of pulling pictures from the net for the purpose of creating a character. I sketch faces for fun. The result is usually some great looking guy, and I've stuck them all in my writing.

Thanks for the tip.

Amie McCracken said...

Cars and a gun and a black cat...I want to know more!

Crystal Collier said...

A MUST for serious character development. =) I'm all digital, images galore in a word document that I peruse every time I need fresh perspective on the character.

Thermocline said...

Hey Casey,

Congrats on sending your final project in! That's great news. Have fun on vacation!

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

It's a wonderful idea. I want to try it. I've done a "create the life you want" collage, and found it very helpful and focusing. But I never thought of applying that to my characters. Thank you

K. M. Walton said...

Dang, Casey, I guess I haven't been to your blog in a while. LOVE the new layout & headshot of you.

And I think I may try the collage idea ; )

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

The more I hear about using a collage the more I'm leaning towards using it.... Thanks for the the push, Lisa!

Kate Evangelista said...

I have to try this sometime. Great tip!

Bethany Neal said...

This seems like a horribly self-indulgent way to kill an entire afternoon. Sunday plans officially made. :)

Paula said...

Okay, you sold me. Never thought about photoshopping the pictures! Cool.

Lisa Nowak said...

Thanks for posting my tip, Casey. I hope some people have fun with this. I was the biggest skeptic, myself, until I tried it. Now when I get stuck I just sit here looking at my collage until I feel connected to the story again.

Anonymous said...

Great tip and I always like hands on with stories! And you have me thinking...what if my character did her own collage-hmmmm.

Angela Ackerman said...

I have not tried this yet but I know I should. Stina knows all, sees all!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

lena said...

That looks like so much fun! Now if I could ever find the time...however, I sometimes think of who would play my characters if it was a movie. That helps me keep a picture in my head as I write.

Stina said...

No Angela. Stina just loves staring at her male character's hot bod. And that's so much easier to do when his body in lying on my floor, so to speak. ;)

I've also printed pictures off the internet. Not everything I wanted could be found in magazines.