Translating Clustering for the Left Brain

I love that Holly (re)introduced the technique of clustering to us.  I’m sure it was offered as a tool sometime in high school, right around the time we learned to outline, but I used it only infrequently.

In my first HTTS go-round, I turned my Sweet Spot Map into a Sweet Spot Atlas just by writing it into a hand sewn book.  There’s so much room in my book, it’s a little overwhelming, but it also helps me face the fact that I have given my creative life permission to take up more room.  Little by little my SSM is growing.

For my 2008 NaNo novel (before HTTS), I did a little clustering, but really started in on it for my first HTTS project.  With the Walkthrough’s Lesson Two demo in which Holly clustered for her current book project, I realized I hadn’t tried giving GOTS its own SSM.  I spent some time last week doing that and it yielded some insights and possibilities which I’m so happy to welcome into the stew in my mind.

What I’m working on now, is taking that “stew” and trying to figure out a way to let my Left Brain, who takes one look at the cluster-mess and goes, “eww, you really want me to look at all the scribbles as if they mean something?” have an easier time making sense of it.  My Muse-mind LOVES t0 make the cluster bubbles, my rational side throws its hands up in despair.

I thought, however, since my logical and organized self likes lists, that making a list might be a way to make all the information useful (rather than just fun to collect).

Among the clustering pages I made which are not SSMs, which will only be posted under password protection, were ones organized around two problem areas I’m looking for solutions to.

The one I’m working with here had to do with a sense that I need to carefully approach how I represent the fairy tale element of the story.  I’m basing this story in the reality we (mostly) all inhabit.  Earth, 1930s, California, regular people.  At the same time there’s a very important connection with the fairy tale realm and I have a particular sense of how the two are supposed to relate.

So, in an attempt to translate a half-page of bubbles into something useful, here’s the information presented in list form.  Just having written the information down may have been enough, but it’s likely that I’ll need to go back and add to what’s here or insert things midway or make sharp turns elsewhere.

It was interesting to find that as I followed some branches further in I got into the detailed workings of the story itself – so this started out as a “talk” about the tone of the book and ended up with a few specific questions and ideas to be sorted out later:

  • **Fairytale element has to be subtle and believable**
  •      -not overly otherwordly or intrusive
  •      – a natural progression and regression to something Artie used to know but has forgotten
  •           – not so much another realm, but a return to an inner realm
  •           – she has to go somewhere she’s touched before
  •           – her dad’s book is key
  •                 – her mom’s been hiding it
  •                 – coloring/puzzles/mazes/riddles
  •                      – comic book expert brother? helps solve clues/codes/ciphers?
  •      – had to have been introduced naturally, by her dad?
  •           – why would mother reject it?
  •           – because she rejects father for hurting her
  •                – mother: he has stars in his eyes.
  •                – she resents his freedom
  •            – maybe he couldn’t be tied down or “pinned” down by relationship?
  •                – he’s imaginative, artistic, hard to get him to be responsible in a conventional way
  •                – but he’s still around

What I see is that I quickly turned to story specifics which don’t appear to be directly relevant to the original problem, except that having written it all down it’s as though I’ve put a bookmark in my mind, a mental sticky note, that will remind me of what is required as I write the story.  One thing I find, though, is that it’s the reality-based aspects of the story that allow for the fairy tale elements. So long as I keep true to the characters’ true needs and motives, I think the cross-reality aspects can be balanced.

Question for you:  How do you capture both the creative flow that clustering offers AND allow the clusters to become a useful planning tool?  Are they mostly just idea sparkers or do you have a way to integrate the information systematically into your planning?

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Posted on May 9, 2011, in GOTS, How to Think Sideways and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. There are two different processes I have used. First–using the clustering technique to come up with just a sweet spot map. Basically, I consider this a way just to lay down thoughts (associated or not) and to get a feel for what ideas are possibly rummaging around in my head. This is your standard “sweet spot map” that Holly’s talking about (at least, my interpretation of it).

    Second–you can use mind maps to organize your thoughts and to get a visual feel for what’s going on. For example, you can answer questions–most likely better on questions that either don’t have only one answer because that way you can keep track of all the different answers you can come up with and later, you can use those to connect with different thoughts that you didn’t think were related, etc., etc.

    The visual component can help you keep things straight and also inspire your Muse to connect dots and bubbles that you may not have connected before…

  2. Hi Kari,

    Yes, I’ve been letting myself just cluster around questions related to my story – rather than feel vaguely uneasy about not having answers, it’s helping to just throw a bunch of stuff out there and see where it all might lead. Not surprisingly, but still, surprisingly to me, there have been good insights. I need to get over my doubts and the weird notion I have that the whole thing ought somehow to be sitting whole in my mind. It’s not currently, consciously whole and that’s why these kinds of techniques are so helpful.

    I think my original question comes out of that uneasiness – that I’m worried that the Writer won’t be able to decipher what the Muse-mind has produced in a way that it all becomes coherent.

  3. Hi Estuary,

    Your question is intriguing. I don’t have answers yet because as my mind maps/star maps/treasure maps become more meaningful they also become messier. Organization has never been easy for me. I use Scrivener. Holly uses Scrivener too. I wonder if she has any ideas about this. Once, long ago she was going to write about how she uses Scrivener. But I never found the post, if there was one.

    For now, I’m going to trust that more will be revealed about how the wild garden of treasure maps will nourish and not overwhelm the focus of story mind unfolding.

    Your post on my site continues to inspire me, though I don’t quite understand what it means. I am find with not understanding, because it is a bridge to a possible epiphany.

    Enjoy the creative journey,
    Writerly blessings,
    Laurel

  4. Laurel, I hope I clarified my comment on your post…

    Meanwhile, I see you understood what occurs in the “wild garden of treasure maps” – indeed nourishing but also somewhat chaotic. That’s what spurred my question here.

    Thanks!

    Wendy

  5. Hi Wendy,

    Yes you did, thank you.

    I’ve created intriguing mind maps for more than a decade. Occasionally I’ll come upon one and re-look at it. Until, hopefully soon, I’ve not done the next steps of integrating the wild wonders into a story that
    gleams.

    your posts are very helpful.
    best,
    laurel

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