Last February, I told you I was interested in the concept of “collage storytelling” and would be taking a workshop on the subject at the South Coast Writers Conference to learn more about (and maybe how to create) it. Well, I did. Now I will attempt to pass along what I learned to you.
First though, what is “collage storytelling?” It is a manner of relating events (does not have to be fiction) that dispenses with the normal, more traditional, narrative structure of “A happened, then B, followed by C,” etc. Instead, the structure (yes, it is still there) is much more subtle, shadowy.
The example we were presented as an illustration was from the visual arts. When an artists paints a still life of an apple sitting on a table, her message to the viewer is fairly straightforward. This is what she sees and this is what she thinks of it. The viewer is left only to decide whether he agrees with her and likes how she expressed her idea.
With collage, the artists might have assembled twenty images of apples in different places, varied states and assorted relationships to each other. Now the artist’s message is still there. It could even be the same message. It just isn’t as obvious as in the traditional painting. The viewer has to expend some effort in order to see and understand the message.
With collage storytelling as in visual collage, the audience is asked to participate much more in the process. They cannot be a passive observer. Collage is a challenge.
So how does one tell a story with collage?
The exercise we did involved taking a word—in our case the word was “blue”–and brainstormed every thing we associated with the word blue. Everything. We probably had fifty or sixty terms listed on the board, everything from “baby blue” to “feeling blue” to “black and blue” and “blue heron.”
The assignment was to then select five or six of the terms that resonated most deeply with us and write a short passage illustrating each. We would then have to decide in which order to present them. When finished we had a short impressionistic piece centered around the term “blue.” That was the underlying structure of the work.
It was left, however, to the reader to figure this out.
Or perhaps they would find some other underlying structure the author was unaware of creating.
The example we used was pretty basic (which, of course, made it much easier to use in a large group) but the principal can be used in many other ways. Instead of the word “blue”what if we used “loneliness” or “fear?” Or what if we used “good dates?” Or “robots?” The technique of brainstorming associations, then picking the most powerful and rendering them can be used for any type or genre you wish to write.