Posted by on in Magnolia City

Cluster luck . . .

In the midst of writing my historical novel Magnolia City, I hit a real roadblock. I was royally stuck for weeks. I had to write a scene where all my major characters attended a formal dinner party at Bayou Bend, the home of Houston’s leading hostess, Ima Hogg (a real person). When my characters sat down together at the dinner table, there were so many tensions and undercurrents clashing together, that my mind short-circuited. I couldn’t sort it all out to begin writing the scene. Day after day, I stared at a blank piece of white paper.

Then I opened my copy of Writing the Natural Way by Rico and decided to try one of the “magic keys” to getting in touch with my “secret reserves of imaginative power.” It’s a technique called Clustering, and is one of the best tools a lucky writer has at his disposal. This was a favorite in my workshops at the Rabbit Hill Writers’ Studio. What is Clustering? “A nonlinear brainstorming process akin to free association.” You start with a nucleus of some sort, the main thought or idea you want to expand upon. In my cluster, it was simply “formal dinner party.” Around the table, I arranged the place cards, and then clustered each one of my characters in turn as if they were a bunch of grapes. What were they thinking? Would did they want to say?

This finally unlocked the dynamics for me, and I was able to write what turned out to be a key scene in the novel. Each character brought something to the table, whether hope or ridicule, and I was able to weave all these threads together to create a rich tapestry of drama. Next time you’re stuck in a story, try it . . . and see if you don’t get lucky, too.

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Guest Monday, 19 February 2018