Keywords and Clustering

Writing is basically a way of putting thoughts on paper. Our aim is to organize those thoughts cohesively for the reader to understand. Over time, many methods have been developed to help us transfer thoughts from our brain to paper or computer screen, and into the brain of the reader.

As I struggled to come up with a plan for the next scene of my work in progress, I remembered a basic method that worked well for me in the past. When too many thoughts are crowding my head, I like to organize them using “clustering,” sometimes  called “webbing.” It has been around for a few decades, but it is still a wonderful tool.

We all know about keywords. We use them in web searches all the time. One main word will trigger many other related words and ideas. In clustering we use keywords to trigger associations. The beauty of using keywords is that you don’t have to write whole sentences in order to remember the thoughts associated with them.

To organize your thoughts, start with a keyword for the main topic of your scene. Close your eyes and imagine that word. What thoughts come to mind? Choose a keyword from one of those thoughts and write it down, Circle it and link it to the main keyword. Do this for each of the ideas that come to you when you think about the main keyword.

Below you can see how I used clustering to come up with ideas about Tenedos Bay, the setting of my scene. Associated with that keyword, I have come up with five lesser keywords (like subheadings): rocky islets, trail, other boats, shelter, and forest. When I think of each of these in turn, more ideas come to me and I jot those keywords down, linking them to the origin of the thought. Once I have done that for each of the main keywords, I end up with five groupings of ideas. Now I’m ready to write.

img750I may not use all of the ideas that I jotted down, but it’s better to have more than I need than not enough. If you were using this particular cluster map, you might want to make some sentences about the trail to Unwin Lake. You can follow the links in that series of mini clusters and build your sentence from the keywords, adding any of the associations that you had in mind as you wrote them down. Using “rocks, roots, well worn,” and “Unwin Lake” you might come up with a sentence like: I followed the well-worn rocky trail to Unwin Lake taking care not to trip over tree roots that crossed the path.

Two shorter sentences would probably be better, but you get the idea of using the cluster words in your writing. Once you have your basic idea written, you can play with the sentence to make it better until you’re happy with it.

You can elaborate on these ideas until you’ve reached into the farthest recesses of your mind to pull out every associated idea that you feel is relevant, and when you’ve finished, you have a paragraph of sentences that are all related to the keyword “trail.”

Each of the groupings will make a good paragraph. Your thoughts will be organized and no longer be mistaken for scrambled eggs in word form.

If you haven’t tried clustering, why not give it a try just for fun?

 

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10 thoughts on “Keywords and Clustering

  1. I read this with great interest as I use a very similar method when doing risk assessments… my pages end much like your example , but it works and certainly makes the writing of the risk assessments so much easier,,,

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  2. It has been around for quite a while. I used a basic version of it with kids at school when we made up sentences in grade one (putting ideas together), but I used it myself for sorting out problems I needed to work through. Works for any topic – personal stuff, or projects you have on the go, or dinner ideas (menu planning) – just about anything. But I really like it for my writing. At school we called it brainstorming and the kids were (for once) allowed to call out their ideas. I would write as fast as I could, adding their ideas and linking the keywords (where they wanted them to go) to the words already on the chalkboard. Then we would follow the path from general to specific to make sentences.

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  3. I guess this is what I used in preparation for writing our second novel, Anneli 🙂 That was about as far as my planning went! I still have the ‘diagram’ somewhere. As a past student of computer science, it felt like a misshapen and muddled flowchart (which used to be drawn with beautiful diamonds and oblongs and straight lines), but it did the job! There are lots of mind mapping apps and things now, but I think I prefer the traditional link between hand, pen, and paper for that sort of thing! 🙂

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