Today, I want to show you how many writersgo about clustering ideas for
The process is simple. Daydreams draw on it all the time. Draw a circle, square, whatever you like in the center of a piece of paper. Go ahead, draw it. Inside that shape, put a word or group of words designating a specific something; desire, idea, plan, objective, goal, or whatever.
For our purposes here, I’ve put “Main Character—Isabel” in my circle. Now, all I’m going to do is let my mind provide everything it can think of that could be related to this character named “Isabel” and draw a line radiating from the circle to the new word. “short” “dark hair” “tanned skin” “Speaks with an accent” “watery eyes” “clubbed foot” “Orphaned” “City dweller” Hates mice” “Can’t read” “generous nature” “hears voices” “Knows the king” and on and on until I fill the page.
I do this exercise quickly. (Most of the time I do this on the computer with my eyes closed.) I don’t stop to ponder any of my associations or to question where any came from. I only write whatever word comes to mind as quickly as possible to make way for the next word.
When I look back at what I’ve written, I will find anomalies. In the example above, some items are capitalized and some aren’t. Why? What is it about the ones with caps that make them important enough to warrant a capital?
Isabel speaks with an accent. Where does she come from if that is true within this story?
Isabel is an orphaned city dweller who can’t read. Why is it critical that I know this about this character?
Isabel knows the king. How does she know the king? Now that’s helpful and important. So, why are the other pieces important, too?
Without answering these questions, I’ll move on to the plot cluster to see if I can find answers there.
Plot Idea Cluster center–(Isabel’s story) “Taken from the king’s household during infancy” “Related to the king” “lives in the weaver’s quarter” “indentured to Master Weaver Challen” “Doesn’t go out in the daytime” “King has ordered a celebration for his son’s birthday” “City faces a dread disease”
Lots of capitals here. Let’s see what I have now. Isabel, disabled with a clubbed foot, lives in the capital city where the king has just ordered the celebration of his son’s birthday and at a time when the metropolis faces a dread disease. An indentured person to Master Weaver Challen, Isabel lives in the weaver’s quarter and doesn’t venture out during the day. How she was stolen from the king’s household during infancy is unclear as yet or what blood relationship she has to the king remains a mystery. Why she was stolen may be a much more important question to answer.
As you can see, clustering works well to find interesting characters and plots. What is done with these ideas determines the final story. More clustering will come, I’m sure. There’re still items to explore like setting, environment (social and physical,) other characters, etc.
Each writer has a unique way to play with ideas. Each has a different perspective on clustering and how it’s used. And each decides for her/himself how deep into it to go. The plot cluster above can be an effective part of a story synopsis, which is critical for the writer. That’s why I’ve come to enjoy them.
There you have it. One technique that’s pliable, friendly, and recyclable. Give it a spin if you don’t use clustering on a regular basis. See if it can work for you.
Tell me your take on this technique and about your experience with it.
Until later, a bientot,
- Morgan Locklear…Wordslinger (June) (bookishtemptations.com)
- Guest Post: Writing Characters With Character by S. A. Garcia (elliscarrington.wordpress.com)
- Loading Words with Lightning (Bugs) (chauncestanton.wordpress.com)
An entire genre has developed itself over the past 40 years or so. Ever since the original Star Trek warped through space, we’ve toyed with the idea of all those stories that never got written about the characters that intrigued us, who captured out respect and hearts. The movement became known as Fan Fiction.
I doubt any serious TV viewer has passed up an opportunity to fantasize about what would happen if… and brought the conjecture back into the series fold as a full-blown story, whether it was written down or not. I’ve done it for years—had whole scripts with good plots, great characters, and even parts for all the regular characters. And the sad thing is that I could have done something with them, if only as fan fiction and not sent the script to the studio for consideration by that series’ team of writers.
It’s one of those “I should have” things that many of us live with on a daily basis. “I should have” gone to see… “I should have” known better than… Truth is, I had a girlfriend back in ’67 when I lived in LA, who’d just sold her script to Desilu Studios for a Star Trek episode. The day after she got word, she was murdered two blocks from our building. The incident sort of put me off Fan Fiction for a while.
Last year I sat down to write poetry of a minor competition—there were no prizes involved, but critiques. My piece didn’t do very well. The audience was too young. That happens more frequently than older writers want to believe.
I still have the poem, which I’ll share here in a moment. I went back through it and changed a few things here and there. It leaped out of the hard drive this morning, screaming at me to find it a home. Since I don’t have any markets (that I can find), I decided to drop it here in order to create a challenge for those who’re up for it.
Everyone has/had a favorite show from their childhood. Now’s your chance to create a little fan fiction to commemorate that show. Write a story in 200 words or less using your favorite character from that show. Or write a poem about said character in a new situation. Recapture the heart of the character and share it here with us.
There’s no prize involved; no judging either. We are merely sharing bits of imagination for the fun of it. Be sure to inform us at the end of the piece the name of the show and the character’s name if you haven’t used it in your story. That’s all there is too it. Don’t be shy. Branch out and explore some fun. I can hardly wait to see what everyone comes up with.
Here’s my poem and how I approached my character from those long ago days of the 60’s,
Remembering Past Trails
He ambled toward the pioneer wagon,
His body sinew-lean, gently rocking.
Crevasses furrowed his weathered face,
Aging him—crinkling blue eyes and tightening lips.
Suspense rose with the background music
As one gloved finger tapped his hat brim.
He posed no menace in this traveler’s guise,
Yet his eyes told of his struggles with it.
His voice stayed low and warm when asking
For water, even as his glance saw all in view.
He gave news of trouble, possibly in days to come
From those who would steal and rip the land asunder.
When thirsting horse and man had quenched their need,
The lean stranger–gun on hip, whip on saddle–mounted.
His mission complete for now, another family warned.
Next week would come more trouble for a man named Rowdy.
Fan Fiction for a little series known far and wide as “RAWHIDE”.
Bring you chairs and wait for the show. I’m so looking forward to watching the coming attractions. Now’s your change to break out. Take it.
- Fan Fiction Addiction (limebirduk.wordpress.com)
- Fran Drescher Reads Naughty Nanny Fan Fiction On WWHL (perezhilton.com)
- Looking for a good Fan-fic!? (phoenixfeatherbird.wordpress.com)
- 30 Days of Blogging Honesty: Day 2 (westendsingleton.wordpress.com)
- Unlikely Fan Fiction Crossover Battles: When Diablo Meets My Little Pony, Horrible Things Happen [Diablo] (kotaku.com)
Okay, so you’ve got your main character into a situation that has no recourse, outlet, or salvation in sight. She’s somehow maimed and in desperate need of direction. You’re not sure how she came to fall into such distress; you hadn’t planned it. What are you going to do?
Don’t panic. You’ve been there before. You know that there’s always a way out of any situation, even if the only action possible to have the character sit on the floor, leaning against the wall, and cry. That is still emotive action that sets up a change of scene.
Now what? Pause. Regroup your thoughts. That is something your character can do while wallowing in emotional release on the floor.
Regardless of the circumstance that trapped your character in this situation, focus on logical solutions. If the movement forward isn’t logical, the reader won’t buy it. You’ve heard that before. This is the time to implement that thought process.
If the problem is a relationship, think of the options available to the character. Is the relationship viable, retrievable, and healthy for the character? Make a decision based on your gut response and earlier content. If dumping this relationship creates more conflict down the road—conflicts that will ultimately create a stronger plot line or twist—you might want to consider this new strand of plotline.
If this is a physical threat situation—character is trapped in a house, cave, castle, etc. you must decide her most logical action to help herself or to gain help from another character, perhaps a walk-on character written specifically for this purpose. Unless the place is deserted, there will be someone around, even if it’s only a rat. Hmm, there’s a thought. What if that rat is someone who has, up to this point in the story, been a candidate for villain?
Think about it. Why would this character have followed your heroine to the place? What does that question bring to mind to add plot, suspense, backstory, etc. to this new situation? Are ulterior motives in play and if so, what kind? Perhaps, this is the true hero for your heroine and the one that was designated previously is actually the villain. It’s your story to develop as you see fit.
Once you have a new direction, fill in the blanks. Think of your story as a fill-in puzzle. That’s really what it is. You have key points to consider. You need paths to connect these key points. Here’s an example of questions to help develop the story.
Heroine is running away
- Why is she running?
- Is her life in danger?
- What is the truth she’s looking for?
- How far does she have to run?
- Is she alone?
- What is her reward for finding this truth?
Heroine’s only hope of finding out the truth is to find a specific character
- Who is this person who holds the truth?
- Is there a connection—out of the past—between these characters?
- Is this character willing to dispense the truth she’s looking for?
- What’s in it for the truth-bearer?
- Will the truth-bearer travel with her to the end?
Heroine falls for villain’s trap and has nowhere to run
- Can she come up with a plan of escape that doesn’t get her killed?
- What are the resources at her disposal to use for escape?
- What does she hear, smell, taste, see, feel?
- Does she hear something/one outside her confinement area?
- Will this new entity help her escape?
- Is it a villain or the good guy or is it another female?
- What reward is there for someone to help her?
Heroine escapes to continue her search and now has traveling companion
- What does she talk about with this companion?
- How much time does she have left to find the truth she seeks?
- Can this companion continue to aid her in her quest?
- What kind of relationship develops between these two travelers?
- What is the next obstacle in heroine’s way to delay her travels?
This type of thinking keeps the storyline moving, but it also fills in the blanks in a way that doesn’t require so much backstory that the reader drowns in it. If you have to redefine along the path to this stage of plotting, so be it. This questioning procedure does more than define—it moves the story.
Whether your character has been maimed or stalled, or you’ve written yourself into the proverbial corner, you can do painless surgery by allowing yourself the right to speculate, deviate, or anticipate within your plotline.
You have questions that you need to ask about your story. Take the time to bring them out into the light and spend time with them. You won’t regret the digression. Enjoy this lovely process of getting to know your character and her life complete with pitfalls. That’s what adventure is all about.
How does your main character arrive? Does she pop into the mind, complete with secrets, aspirations, and whimsy? Or, do you have to sit down and get out your character building blocks to begin construction on the kind of character you want to deal with for however long it takes you to write an entire story?
Each type of character has possibilities for the writer. Think of the yourself as a casting director. A movie is being planned inside your mind and needs a cast to people the sets that are built to show/tell the story.
Cast of Characters: Primary figures
- Heroine—late twenties, had to leave college during junior year due to family crisis, didn’t finished education, works at local veterinarian’s office as a vet tech rather than the physician she wanted to be.
- Male lead—perhaps late twenties/early thirties, civil engineer, rugged and cocky in looks and attitude, considers heroine interesting but not worth the trouble of getting to know better—he has secrets hiding behind his eyes.
- Female support character—high school classmate, Miss Popularity, divorced socialite in town, waging intimacy war with male lead, has always looked down on heroine.
- Villain—possible murderer, keeping police baffled and jumping through hoops as she/he kills off various townspeople for no apparent reason, leaves too many conflicting clues as if playing cat and mouse with cops.
- Police detective—has known heroine all her life, used to date her in high school, pallbearer at her father’s funeral, struggling to stay in control of murder case even when he knows he’s over his head on this one, rethinking his career choice.
- Setting—rural town, population 12,000, Midwest locale, farming and college town.
With this list of pivotal characters, you can begin to build both plot and character studies. You must decide which to pursue first. For our purposes here, concentrate on characters.
Building a character takes planning. How would you tackle the heroine? When you close your eyes and think about this character, what do you see? How tall is she? What kind of clothing does she typically wear? What color is her hair? Keep thinking about her. Write down what you envision about this person. Listen to her voice, her speech patterns, and her quirks of expression. Have you learned her name yet?
Take a moment to meet her. Shake her hand. Is it callused, soft, long and lean, or square and pudgy? Do you join her at a table at the local diner?
What kind of people are in the diner and what is their behavior like? Is there a feeling of camaraderie among the locals, one of friendship or tension? Do you feel comfortable within this group? If so, describe what you feel as you sit at the table with the heroine.
Do this ceremonial meet and greet with each of your new characters. Find your place among them. Develop a rapport with these people that you’ll be working with for a while in the future.
The story’s setting is a character as well. You noticed it on the casting list. Setting is the biggest and can be the most complex of your characters. Take the time to get familiar with it. Learn so much about it that you can taste the dust kicked up by the pick-up speeding down the county road on its way south. Close your eyes and feel the soft summer breeze on your bare arm as it slides by on a moist July night. Is that thunder in the west?
Spontaneity is a terrific starting place. If you wake up in the middle of the night with an image in your mind and a glimpse of a story behind it, you’re on your way to writing a story. The same type of vision can happen anywhere, at any time.
The construction work that follows that spontaneous burst of mental creation fleshes out the initial character image, takes it to a new depth and richness that brings the character to life for the reader. You can have the loveliest character in the literary world, but without the tiny flaws, the midnight kitchen sessions, or the mental confessions, indecision and questions, the character is, at most, only two-dimensional.
Without placing your characters in a place that feels real, they remain merely players on a stage with recognizable sets. Spontaneity gets the juices flowing, creates the spark that draws your interest, and emblazons the images for your use. The time you spend and construction work you do with those images, those feelings, are what carry you, the writer, through to a complete story; one that will hold the reader’s interest and cause them to catch her breath in anticipation.
Whether spontaneous sparks get you started at the keyboard or a planned and executed list of possible characters puts your butt in the chair, each mode has its place in writing. You can plan and build tight studies and scenarios all you want. When you get to the revision stage of the process, spontaneity will become your best friend.
The minute details that have been missing so far will pop out to explain the motives of a character in chapter five. A flash of insight will inform you how something happened so quickly in your plot. These are as important to the overall health of a story as your casting couch. Make good use of both planning and seat-of-your-pants writing techniques.
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