Friday, October 5, 2012

Using a Web

Not THE Web, as in the Internet. I'm talking about an idea web. When you've got a basic concept or thought to build a story around but you're trying to generate some ideas to "flesh it out," an idea web is often the best way to do it. It's just another way of brainstorming but, because it's more of a graphic technique, it often helps you get past "sticking places" because it uses your brain a little differently.

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.
  1. Take a blank sheet of paper.
  2. 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.
  3. 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."
That's enough to let you see how an idea web works. You can see how some ideas form an "arm" from the original circle -- that is, they stretch out and don't connect to any other arms. You can also see that some ideas loop back on themselves, connecting to other ideas on other arms. Most of the examples of idea webs I've seen only include "arms" -- that's the quickest way to do a web, and working quickly helps you get ideas that you might otherwise decide not to use. This is a form of brainstorming, so you don't want to be judgmental about what you write down. You can always pick and choose what to use from your web later on! The idea is to create as many connected ideas as possible.

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:
This is one of the most useful brainstorming techniques I know. It's a skill definitely worth adding to your toolbox.

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