Home > Life, Today's Questions, Work-related, Writing and Poetry > It’s a Cluster Out There

It’s a Cluster Out There

Today, I want to show you how many writersgo about clustering ideas for

Blank Mind Map–Clustering

story development.

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,


  1. June 4, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Very interesting technique. I’ll have to remember that.

    • claudsy
      June 4, 2012 at 11:24 am

      It brings all sorts of things to the surface, Carrie. I think you’ll like it.

  2. Veronica Roth
    June 4, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I’ve done this clustering mostly before writing major term papers and have taught my children how to do the same. You know… when you sit down to a university test all info flies out the window and panic sets in. Using the “note” side of the test booklet to write and draw these bubbles of information result in information bonds and a road map of sorts. (saved my skin in several courses over millions of years in my three degree programs) My maps look slightly different in that each bubble has several bubbles of info radiating from it carrying relative information to that bubble only. Things get pretty crowded sometimes. 🙂

    • claudsy
      June 4, 2012 at 11:25 am

      It helps in so many areas of thought and can be applied to so many tasks. It makes you wonder how we ever lived without it, doesn’t it?

  3. Amy
    June 4, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I used cluster maps for essays and term papers in college, but I never considered doing it for works of fiction. I’m having a Duh moment. Of course this works perfectly for fiction and character building. I seem to remember reading that this technique employs both sides of the brain, hence its effectiveness.
    Thanks, Claudsy. I’m going to give it a try.

    • claudsy
      June 4, 2012 at 11:30 am

      It’s great because it’s so effortless for most people. Daydreaming with your eyes open and a pencil in your hand. You can come up with the most marvelous ideas.

      Glad to have reminded you, Amy. Good writing to you today.

  4. June 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Do you know of any good software to help do this? Free is nice.

  5. March 9, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Simply want to say your article is as surprising. The clarity
    in your post is just nice and i could assume you are an expert on this subject.

    Fine with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post.

    Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying

    • March 9, 2014 at 6:35 pm

      Thank you so much, Alexandra. I’m happy you enjoyed the piece. If you’d like to pass the link on in something of your own, I have no objection, as long as my credit goes along with it. Thank you for asking. So many don’t. Please stop by when you have a moment. I usually post something on the site a couple of times a week when my workload permits.


    • March 9, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      Something else, Alexandra. Claudsy’s Blog moved to http://www.2voices1song.com/ and resides there now. Come on over and see what’s happening on that site. My author’s site is http://www.claudettejyoung.com/ and I have stuff going on there all the time, including challenges. Hope to see you at either site.

  6. October 10, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Thankis for the link back, Daniel. You might want to try my new blog location at: http://www.2voices1song.com/ I have even more stuff over there. See ya soon.

  1. December 2, 2014 at 8:43 pm
  2. October 10, 2015 at 7:29 pm

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