Chrysalis: Emerging Women Writers

April 4, 2011

Making a Character Collage

Filed under: Technique,Writing — Lisa Nowak @ 10:57 pm

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.

Click to Enlarge


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….



  1. Our writing styles are SO different! But then, your stories are so polished and unified, so balanced and well thought out. Don’t know if I could do it, but I can sure stand back and admire the results!!

    Comment by Roxie — April 5, 2011 @ 5:12 am

  2. My process is now a storyboard and I use tape so I can move the pictures around as needed. Then I use post-it notes as plot point reminders and ways to mark turning points. There’s a lot of color on my boards because I use different colors depending on the character or plot line.

    Of course this is a process developed recently as I was also starting anew. 😀

    Comment by terripatrick — April 5, 2011 @ 8:34 am

  3. Here it is, April 10, and I know you’ve finished your first draft of Dead Heat. You’ve created a great method of bringing your characters into focus. Nice that you’re passing it on to others.

    Comment by Alice Lynn — April 10, 2011 @ 7:52 am

  4. I am going to try one of these boards and see if I have a fictional story in me after all! Mary Jean

    Comment by Mary Jean — June 18, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

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