writing, Writing and Editing

Storytelling With Collage

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.

writing, Writing and Editing

Collage Storytelling

As those of you who have been paying attention lately know, the 20th South Coast Writers Conference is coming up in February. Yes, I’ve registered. And yes, I’m a bit excited about it. This year, in particular, features some of the most interesting workshops offered lately.

Maybe it’s because most of the workshops are more directly related to writing fiction than usual. Whatever.

One of the workshops I’m most looking forward to is called “The Ol’Collage Try,” taught by Elena Passarello. Here is the official workshop description from the conference guide:

A lyric essay uses vivid images and quick cuts to tell stories in artfully arranged fragments, rather than in one specific narrative line. Inspired by visual art and film, collage storytelling is a lynch pin form of the sub-genre known as “lyric essay,” and it serves as an inspiring way to supercharge your writing.

Collage storytelling is something I’ve been interested for many years, but haven’t had the work I needed to pursue it. The idea I’ve been toying with, hadn’t had a name before now; collage storytelling works quite well. I first began to think about it after a phase of studying art history. In particular, the school of painting called “Pointilism” caught my imagination.

“Pointilism” is a school of visual art that teaches that portraits can be rendered, not with the usual brushstroke rendering of lines and areas to depict shapes, colors, and difference in light. The Pointilists said the same effect could be achieved using an arrangement of small dots. The theory states that the human mind, viewing the arrangement of dots, would automatically find the pattern and fill in the missing details.

And it works. At least it works in the visual arts.

How would it work in writing? Well, that’s why I’m going to take the workshop. To find out. In theory though, it would involve creating a series of seemingly unrelated scenes, but with an underlying connection. It would be up to the reader to provide that connection.

At best, it would be tricky because it will depend on the reader doing more work than he or she is used to doing. How many readers have you talked to who don’t read (because they can’t follow) nonlinear narratives? What are the odds they would be willing to figure out a collage-style narrative?

However, there are three reasons I believe we write. Self-expression, to entertain the reader, and to advance the art form. Writing a work of collage storytelling would definitely fall under the “advancing the art form” heading. When I write my first collage story, it will be with the full knowledge that 90% of the readers will not like it. But the 10% who are fans of “literary” fiction will. It is to that group of readers I will submit my collage fiction.

When I get it written. I’m hoping the writing workshop will help with that.

writing, Writing advice, Writing and Editing

Registration Now Open For the South Coast Writers Conference

One of the many hats I am prone to wear (other than writer of fiction and blogger) is that of a member of the organizing committee of the South Coast Writers Conference, an annual event we hold in my hometown of Gold Beach, Oregon on the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. It is in that role that I am pleased to announce the lineup for the 2015 Conference, February 13-14, 2015.

The Presenters are:

Kim Griswell (keynote):
Developmental editor of children’s books for Portable Press and former coordinating editor at Highlights for Children.


Hey, Kid! Have I got a Story for You!— the craft of narrative nonfiction.
It’s All About Character—characterization

Stevan Allred:
Author of A Simplified Map of the World.


Exploring Point of View—Friday intensive workshop
Dixon Ticonderoga—pencils as inspiration
Creating Convincing Characters Across Gender—characterization of those not like us.

Mark Bennion:
Teaches at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Author of two poetry collections: Psalm and Selah, and Forsythia.


Close Observation and Resonant Sources (twice)

Dan Berne:
Author of The Gods of Second Chances, his debut novel.


Market Trends You Need to know About
Build Your Marketing Plan

Mark Graham:
Musician who has performed at The Newport Folk Festival and The Prairie Home Companion.


Art of Satiric and Comic Song

Nina Kiriki Hoffman:
Stoker and Nebula Award winning author of fiction.


Find Magic in Your Own Backyard
Setting is Character is Setting

Elena Passarello:
Her debut collection Let Me Clear My Throat won the Independent Publishers Association Gold Medal for non-fiction and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She teaches at Oregon State University.


Research in Literary Prose
The Ol’ Collage Try
—collage story telling

Liz Prato:
The author of Baby’s On Fire: Stories.


Perfect Your First Two Pages—Friday intensive workshop
Master Your Point of View
The Ins and Outs of Publishing in Lit Journals

Jeffrey Schultz:
The author of the National Poetry Series Selection: What Ridiculous Things We Could Ask of Each Other. He is the Interim Director of the Creative Writing Program at Pepperdine University.


Voice, Personality, and Perspective
Metonymy and Experience
—alternate literary devices

Tess Thompson:
Bestselling author of romantic suspense.


Conquering Dialogue—Friday intensive workshop
Dialogue for Page-turning Fiction–(condensed version of the Friday workshop)

Once again, we have invited some of the best writers of the Pacific Northwest to guide you in an exploration and celebration of the many facets of writing. Participation in workshops is limited to 25 students for each of the three, intensive, Friday workshops and to 30 for the Saturday workshops. Participants are urged to register early to secure a seat in the workshops they want.

The South Coast Writers Conference. Gold Beach, Oregon, United States. Friday February 13, Saturday February 14, 2015.

For more information on the conference, contact the Gold Beach Center of Southwestern Oregon Community College at 541-247-2741 or visit the conference website at http://www.socc.edu/scwriters.