Writing Life: Clustering

How many of my loves use clustering as an initial plotting technique?  Anyone?  Well, I’m here to give you as many reasons as I can why you should.

Let’s start with this: clustering empties your brain.  The rules of clustering state that you need to write down ANYTHING that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t connect to anything else.  Write it down, no matter how ridiculous, because you never know when you’ll find that gem that connects points A and C with the ever-elusive B.  It’s like really messy, bullet-point free-writing.

My good friend Coffee over at The Land of Man-Eating Pixies recently posted about something her shop teacher said, and it’s really brilliant.  It’s the ENTIRE reason I swear by clustering (even if he wasn’t talking about clustering =P).

“Your brain is filled with stupid. There’s layers and layers and layers of stupid in your brain. So you have to give yourself fifteen minutes and a couple sheets of paper, and you have to write down every idea that pops into your mind. Even the ones that suck. Because you have to empty out all that stupid and maybe something halfway decent will trickle out. And you’ll be like, ‘WHOA WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? THAT’S ACTUALLY KIND OF GOOD.’ And the only reason you’ll have that halfway decent idea is because you emptied out all the stupid.”

I adore her for sharing this.  You guys need to visit her blog.  MOVING ON.  Yes, you need to empty out all the crappy ideas, because you never know when one crappy idea winds up as an integral part of your hook.

What is clustering?  Let me illustrate.

Messy photography, I apologize.

1.  Color-coded legend!  You don’t have to use highlighter, but I do.  Yellow for settings and locations, pink for characters and character relationships, and orange for groups and organizations.

2.  The actual cluster.  You start by writing a name, an event, a setting, plot point, etc. in the center.  From that center point, you write any connection you can make to it, then you branch off by making connections to the connections.  On the lines that connect them, you can write why their connected, catalysts, necessary information, etc.  Seriously, write ANYTHING that comes to mind.  If it doesn’t connect, don’t connect it.  If you don’t like it later, take it out.  In this way, clustering functions like free-writing; removing any mental blocks you may have between A and B and giving you deeper insight into the connections between characters and events in your story.

3.  Bullet points that detail this and that within the cluster.  If I hit on a point I like, I toss it up in the bullet points.  Sometimes it even turns into a faint starter outline.  It’s handy.

4.  Believe it or not, this is actually part of the original cluster.  It erupted into a detailed plan and layout of the city in which this all takes place.  All I’m missing is the drawing.  It’s easy to get carried away in clustering, after all, and that’s encouraged!  Anything that propels you forward.

Need a better view on each point?  I’m going to leave out number 1, since I think I can assume we all know how to work a legend.  I’ll also add another apology for the poor photography.


3.  (Don’t you love my handwriting?  It’s like someone blindfolded a toddler and handed him a Bic pen.)


Whew.  There we go.  See in 4?  Above the mess of setting details, it’s linked to my cluster.  It all connects somehow or other.  I’m sort of grateful for my crappy photography in the first two pictures.  It keeps some of my details super-secret.  =P

In any case, that’s clustering!

Do you use clustering?  Are there other pre-outline development techniques you prefer?  How do you handle your initial ideas?



Filed under Writing Life

14 responses to “Writing Life: Clustering

  1. I’ve never tried that, actually. I like the idea, but I get really flustered when there’s too much on a page, so I’m not sure it would work for me… I do like making lists of ideas, of plots points, and little “to-do” lists where I write down little scenes I want or things that I want to think about later and research or try to flesh out more.

    • Clustering works well for people who don’t have a clear idea of where they want their plot to go. Or have no plot at all. It does get very messy, but connecting everything with lines helps me. My compulsive organization is sated with the color coding. Lol.

  2. This is brilliant. It jives perfectly with the overwhelming, convoluted mess of pathways my thoughts make.

    Thanks for this post =)

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  4. Erin M

    Cool technique! I like it! Thanks for sharing! I don’t think my brainstorming for stories is this organized, ha ha ha. O_o

    I DID finally get around to marking a symbol near the edge of my notebook pages so that I’d know which scribbles were supposed to be story ideas instead of just random thoughts or rants . . . XD

    OH WAIT. I sort of used word webs and lists kind of like this for a story I started planning and then set aside. I don’t know if I’d be able to decipher my shorthand and random words, now. =\


    • XD It’s my favorite way to brainstorm because I can just write stuff and draw curvy lines. <3

      I have notebooks specifically for planning and ideas. I can usually sift through them pretty easily. But that is the exact reason I no longer use shorthand. I would scribble and think "I can figure out what this means. This idea is brilliant, there's no way I'll forget it." I lied, apparently.

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  6. Absolutely LOVE it, Kit(: Amazing. And helpful, since I really should be planning out the rest of The Never Ending War, as well as my NaNo idea… Sigh.
    ANYWAY. Love you:P

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  8. Melly

    Okay. I am going to try this someday, I swears. <3 loves you Kitty.

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