By Heather McCollum
I often dream of living alone in a tiny house in the forest with my dog, sipping chai tea lattes and tapping away on my stories with only the tweeting of birds and the whistle of the breeze in the background. Life is good with nothing gloomy to distract me.
Yeah – that world doesn’t exist. At least not for me. I have three loud, messy, overly-dramatic children (ages 14, 20 and 22) who are all living with me thanks to Covid. Don’t get me wrong. I love them dearly, but they are usually a hot mess, which makes me a hot mess, which makes my brain tumble around questions like: Will he live with me forever? Did she miss her therapy appointment? Will she ever pick up that pile of clothes that has taken root on the stairs? Oh, and the most common question of all – What am I going to make for dinner?
But in order to meet my deadlines, I must draw my mind back to the epic 16th century world I’m creating and re-immerse myself as quickly as possible.
So I collage.
Yes, I cut out pictures and paste them down on something. Outside a computer.
I sometimes go all out and use beautiful blank books. I fill the first two pages with pictures of my main characters: what they look like, their back stories, their setting. The cutout pictures may not match what I have in mind exactly, but I hunt for the right emotions. The next page represents the hero’s and heroine’s first meeting. Then turning points, the dark moment, and the happy ending.
I’ve used poster board for some books so I could see everything at once. But I think the easiest medium to collage is an open manila folder, because it is smaller and can be stored in my filing cabinet. The concept is still the same as the blank books, but folders take less time to put together.
My process goes something like this. I write the first couple of chapters of the new book because the idea and opening scene are so exciting to me that I can’t sleep unless I put them down in print. Around the beginning of chapter three, I’m not so confident anymore. I don’t know enough about my characters, so this is when I head to the images on the internet and to magazines. This picture hunt assists me with my plotting as well as helping me understand the depths and backstories of my characters.
I already have basic ideas of what my hero and heroine look like, so I start by searching for pictures of people or setting locations. If you try this at home, beware some of the search results. If you google sexy men, you will probably get an eyeful!
There are also practical reasons to collage. I have a terrible time remembering character eye color, favorite dresses, and locations of scars. So I write these details onto my collage, along with the setting date, locations, and historical happenings around the time of the book. It is much easier and faster for me to refer to my collage than looking these details up over and over. I tweak the details on the collage throughout the writing project. It is as dynamic and organic as my journey to the end of the book.
When my reality pushes in on my writing, I put the collage up in front of me, turn on the soundtrack I created for that book, and dive back into my Scottish historical romance world. That is how I wrote HIGHLAND WARRIOR this past year while the whole family stayed home with me.
Have you ever collaged? It’s lots of fun!
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