Tuesday, October 31, 2006


"All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath."
Francis Scott Fitzgerald 1896- 1940 (undated letter)

With all my moving, a house guest, broken printer, classes etc I've been somewhat 'blocked' with my writing, although once I had time to sit and make handwritten notes I managed to break through the barrier and finish another chapter segment of my novel.

I'm always looking for new techniques to overcome writer's block. Making notes is one of the things I do, looking over research notes, browsing through other historical novels for little 'prompts' that jog my subconcious into action and in no time I have whole paragraphs, even pages written which I then transpose onto the computer and work from these rough drafts. It works for me. So does taking long walks by the sea or in lovely parks (at the moment the crisp Autumn colours are inspiring.)

In my novel writing classes, the first night is always a discussion about "Plotting Your Story". We play a plotting game, in groups, which is fun and also a good 'ice breaker' for the class.
Then I ask them to prepare a rough outline of a plot for the following week: think of what the theme is and sketch in the story (which, of course, may change as they go along, but it's a kind of road map so the novice writer knows where they are going.) Next, characters and voice. Who are your characters, who's story is it? I suggest they begin keeping bio files on their characters which will include description (perhaps pictures of like characters) and other pertinent data about the character. The following week we talk about settings. Where does your story take place? What is that place like? Even invented worlds have to seem real to the reader so it's important to have a clear image in mind of where your characters are living.

Now I have learned of another technique for visualizing plot, characters and settings. I recently attended an interesting workshop at the Surrey International Writers' Conference with
a presenter I have enjoyed on other occasions. Jennifer Crusie (www.jenniecrusie.com )
was presenting a workshop on"Brainstorming with scissors and glue". A story collage workshop.
What a novel idea! She explained she is a writer who doesn't easily visualize settings and characters so she has devised a way to make it more visual for her as she is working on her novels. She uses collage as a visual first draft. She cuts pictures from magazines, brochures, and newspapers and pastes them onto a collage: pictures of her characters, settings, ideas for the plot etc. She explained that as she is working on the collages she often has new inspiration for the story, plot changes etc. She not only pastes on clipped out pictures but other objects that relate to the story and chracters. By the time she's finished, she has a visual idea of her story to refer to as she is writing. (She also uses a 'shadow box' technique which is equally successful for visualizing, giving a more 3-D affect.)

I thought this was an excellent idea to go along with keeping the character bios and in my next novel writing sessions I'd like to suggest to the class to try this technique.

I do something similar in a way... surrounding my work space I have many objects and pictures on the walls that remind me of my characters and the setting (ancient Greece) where they lived. Fortunately for me, I have visited some of the sites and studied many pictures and history books of places I couldn't visit, so I have a clear visual image of the ancient settings. And in my travels I have met people who to me were the incarnations of characters in my novel. But for those writers who are not so lucky as to be able to visualize their characters and scenes, I think the collage idea is brilliant.

As for my own writing, I'm back into it now and will hopefully get another chapter segment finished before I fly off to Chile. (Two weeks to go...check my travel blog at
http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com )

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance..."
Alexander Pope 1688 - 1744 An Essay on Criticism (1711) l. 162


Sam said...

I think collages are a great idea. I have a freind who designs shoes - and before she starts a collection, she cuts out all kinds of pictures that give her the idea of what she wants to do.
It works!

Wynn Bexton said...

I agree. I think you could use this for poetry and any kind of creativity that requires the visual images. I recall someone (and it might have been Jennie Crusie) saying that it is also a kind of meditation -- as you focus your creative thoughts while composing the collage.

Debra Young said...

I read about it on Jennie's site and love the collage idea. Think when I return to A Lamentation of Swans, I'll do that. d:)

Wynn Bexton said...

Debra, I was thinking of you when I attended this workshop. Thought it would be an excellent idea for you with Lamentation of Swans.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it's a bit what I do when traveling places and take pics of the settings, and those hot actor photos I post on my blog, lol.

But I still need weird plot twist for a story to fall into place. :)

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

I love to create collages and do so often. I don’t gear them specifically for a particular story though. Instead, I just mindless clip and paste whatever comes to mind and then perhaps add some sketching details until I’m thoroughly relaxed and lost in what I’m doing. The process is very therapeutic and really clears my mind. It also inspires, rejuvenates and gets my creative juices flowing. Not to mention I end up with some wonderful, whimsical artwork for my efforts. :-D