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Welcome to the second installment of the Kite Tales Writing Prompt: #KTWriteOn. Each writing challenge is crafted by a kid-lit publishing professional to help spark ideas and creative energy. This prompt was created by author and SCBWI volunteer Marilyn Cram Donahue whose latest middle grade novel, When Crickets Stopped Singing (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek), will be published on March 20.

By Marilyn Cram Donahue

Are you looking for a boost of creativity? All you need is a pile of old magazines, some tape, and a sheet of 11”x17” paper. This is the ideal size, but you can also tape two sheets of regular typing paper together.

Step 1: Open the magazines and choose pictures that speak to you. Don’t analyze. Just think “AHA! I like that.”

KTWriteOn-Donahue1Step 2: Rip out the pages you like and use your fingers to tear around the edges of whatever part of the picture speaks to you. Why are you tearing?

Because scissors are impersonal. Fingers are not. It’s kind of like making bread. You can’t knead it unless you get your hands in it. So tear that apple from the bowl of fruit, that lightening from the sky, that rosebush from the garden, that turkey from the platter. Anything goes. It’s OK to choose words, too. Look at the advertisements. I found one I couldn’t resist. It said “Spend a Week in an Irish Cottage.” I tore it out and placed it at an angle near the top of my page.

Step 3: Place your choices on the paper. Experiment by moving them around. Don’t try to keep them inside the perimeter of the paper. Let them lap over the edges. Your creative thoughts should never fit into a rectangle. They shouldn’t be boxed in.


Step 4: Use your tape to fasten the pictures to the page and to each other. This is the time for decision making. Why are you putting the humming bird next to the dinner plate? What is that branch of lavender wisteria doing in the middle of the sky? You are the only one with the answers. It’s your collage. It’s your voice.

Step 5: Now sit back and look at your creation. Let descriptive words and phrases play in your imagination. Grab a pencil and write them down before they get away. Before long, you’ll find that in your personal responses to the collage you have created, are bits of poetry, memories, ideas for story settings, character descriptions, and even plots.


Step 6: Pick up your pen and begin writing. Don’t do this part on the computer. You are working on a personal relationship with pen and paper, and the handwriting/brain connection is important at this point. It’s also important not to be judgmental. Just write — and let your ideas continue to form for 15 minutes. Only then can you put on your analytical cap and think about what you just did and where you are coming from.

Making a voice collage is useful beyond discovering things about your own voice. I often make a collage for troublesome characters — those who don’t want to fit the mold. Somehow, the act of letting a character choose the things he or she likes — the things they want to take ownership of — makes them more understandable.

I would love to hear about your experience making a voice collage and I’ll bet a lot of other people would, too. Comment below, or on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #KTWriteOn.

In case you missed it: Check out the first installment of #KTWriteOn with Chronicle Books Senior Editor Melissa Manlove.

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

MD_HeadshotMarilyn Cram Donahue is the author of 18 books for middle grade and YA, and 14 books for adults. She speaks at schools, is an author-in-residence at writing retreats, serves as a career advisor for Pomona College, and has twice been co-director of the National Writing Project at the University of California. Learn more at marilyncramdonahue.com 

Collage photos and author photo provided by Marilyn Cram Donahue and her daughter, Margaret Rippetue. Stock photo by Dustin Lee on Unsplash.