Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday Forays In Fiction: Book Review: Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico

Writing the Natural Way: Using Right-Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers
By Gabriele Lusser Rico
© 1983
J. P. Tarcher
279p

Subject: Writing; Creativity; Writing exercises;

I can’t begin to measure the degree or the ways of influence Ms. Rico’s technique has had on my writing since I first discovered this book in 1987. It was her clustering technique that gave me a reliable tool for bypassing my pesky critic, the stern editor that wants to control every word before it is even written. Clustering is a way to tap into the right brain where image and metaphor and emotion weave a web of meaning to hang your words on.

To generate a cluster simply take a blank sheet of paper. Write a word or phrase in the center which represents a topic or theme. Draw a circle around it. Then off in any direction at any distance write another word or phrase that associates with the first. Draw a circle around it and then draw a line connecting the first bubble to the second. Write a third word associated with either or both of the first two words then circle it and connect it. Keep this up at a fairly steady pace without stopping to think overmuch until the page is a web of interconnected words and phrases or until something grabs your interest and you can’t resist the urge to start writing.

Now, I haven’t given away even one percent of the wealth of writing wisdom imparted in this book. Rico provides humorous exercises for developing other elements essential to the most transforming and transfixing writing, writing created from the stuff of your self that transcends self, place and time. My poem, Remembering Dandelions, was the result of an exercise at the end of Chapter 3: The Childhood Origins of Natural Writing.

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That was another recycled review from my neglected site Joyread. I wrote it years ago. Probably around 1998 before I loaned out my well-thumbed, underlined and notated copy and then never got it back. I continued to use library copies since then until I bought myself another second-hand copy in late 2007.

I've given this book the credit for waking the poet in me. Before this book I had given no serious thought to poetry. But that isn't the theme of this post. Since the above review did not discuss how I used this method for fiction writing, I thought I would add some reflections on that here.

The fiction writing task I most often use the clustering method for is character creation and development. I would write the character's name in the center circle and then surround it with description, character traits, metaphors, word-images, history, friends and family, dialog snippets, wants and needs and hopes and fears, hobbies and so on and on. On a least one occasion this led me to compose a poem that gathered up the most significant results of the cluster for a character: The Woman Who Swallowed a Baby. Alas but that story remains in the planning stage. I sometimes wonder if the poem itself satisfied the story's need to be told. The character is one of the dozens in my FOS storyworld who I thought would carry her own novel but it's possible she is destined to remain a supporting character in several of the other stories.

Another way clustering has been extremely helpful is during revision when I'm looking for images and metaphors that carry the story's theme. I sift through the scenes looking for those already there, take them into a cluster and expand the cluster to see what will attach to them then and make sure that the most powerful ones are planted early and developed and deepened throughout the story. This is an important part of revision as often the best images and metaphors will show up well after the first third of the story and for them to be effective they need to show up as early as possible and be carried through. I used this process in both of the completed stories featuring Faye in my FOS storyworld: Of Cats and Claws and Curiosities and Making Rag Doll Babies and Million Dollar Maybes

Clustering is also useful for developing settings and descriptive passages. For that exercise I often plant two words in the center--one to indicate the place or thing to be described and the other to indicate the mood the scene requires.

0 tell me a story:

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