I think the first place I ever saw an idea web was in the book Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico. She called it "clustering" and I found it very useful. The concept now goes by many names, but the principle is the same.
- Take a blank sheet of paper.
- Write down the key word or thought you want to brainstorm in the center of the paper and draw a circle around it. Let's say you want to write a story about Hercules. You write "Hercules" in the center of the paper and circle it.
- Now just free-associate. Write down any and every idea that comes to you, circle them, and connect the circles with lines. Some lines will connect to the original circle, but others will connect to the new circles. For example, here are some possible ideas and how they connect:
- Hydra: Hercules fought the Hydra, a multi-headed snake. I write and circle "Hydra," then draw a line connecting the two circles.
- 12 Labors: Killing the Hydra was one of the 12 Labors of Hercules. I write and circle "12 Labors" but I connect this circle to the "Hydra" circle since I got this idea from the Hydra.
- Stymphalian Birds: I may start thinking about some of the other Labors; I'd circle them and connect them to the "12 Labors" circle. This is one of them..
- Megara: Meg was the first wife of Hercules. I circle her name and connect it to the "Hercules" circle. The names of their three children would be little circles connected to Meg's circle.
- Chiron: He's the centaur who tutored Hercules. Another circle connected to "Hercules."
- Arrows: Hercules was known as a great archer. I'd connect this circle to "Hercules"... but also to "Stymphalian Birds" because Hercules killed them with arrows. Those arrows were dipped in poison he got from the Hydra, so I'd also create a Poison circle and draw lines connecting the "Poison" circle to both "Arrows" and "Hydra."
The connections are what make this a valuable form of brainstorming. Because your ideas are all related, they can suggest plotlines, character relationships, and even complex aspects of your story's world.
Here are a few examples (with explanations) of idea webs:
- Here's a sample from Gabriele Rico's site. Her examples are neat because they show you short pieces that were actually written using the webs.
- Here's a sample from Vicki Meade at Meade Communications.
- And here's a more business-oriented example from the Writing Center at the University of Richmond. This technique is very flexible and can be used for a number of different tasks.