Saturday, August 02, 2008

Free Association Plotting

How many of your FAP? Probably none since I made up the acronym. It stands for Free Association Plotting.

Maybe you’ve got an idea for a book, but it’s just a general nugget, nothing thought out or planned. Or maybe you’ve written the opening chapter, but aren’t sure where to go from there. I suggest you FAP.

I think this is similar to Mind Mapping. I say “think” since I’ve never learned to Mind Map, but I’ve heard others say they Mind Map. And it sounds rather like FAP.

If you’ve got an idea for a book or you’ve written a scene or two, then you’ve got what you need to FAP. Get a piece of paper, big or small. I’ve used a notepad; I’ve also used a huge bulletin board covered with paper.

In one or two words, write your nugget in the center. I usually start with the protagonist. It might be a concept or a murder or a love interest or a setting. Whatever you have. Circle it.

Now, you start Free Associating. Let your mind go to new ideas. Don’t censor.

Around your centered nugget, jot down the things that come to mind. Characters, both main and secondary. Possible plot points for the book. Changes in setting. Connections between the characters. Action.

You can use different colors of ink to differentiate characters from plot points. Or you can put circles around characters and squares around action points. You choose. Use lines to connect the different characters. Dotted lines to show indirect links or red herrings or layering.

Work quickly. Don’t stare at the paper and think. Let your mind come up with all kinds of ideas. You can filter later.

You don’t have to know how everything will fit together. That’s not the point of this exercise. But the beauty is that as you free associate, you’ll discover that things are indeed fitting together. You can see how it would work.

Now step back and look at the entire FAP you created. I bet you’ll smile.

And if you ever get stuck during the writing of the book, do another FAP just for the area you’re having trouble with.


  1. I've never tried this technique, despite the fact that years ago a friend gave me a book on the subject. The book is called Writing the Natural Way, and it's about using right-brain techniques to be creative. I confess, I only glanced through it at time. I'm not good at letting go; preferring to control the thinking/writing process. But your blog made me dig out the book, and I plan to make use of the technique as I plot my next story. And it's time to do that.

    L.J Sellers

  2. Yep, mapping is fapping. :) Funny that you say right-brain, l.j.- An early mindmapper, Tony Buzan, considers it both-brained. I like to call it whole-brained. Will write about that more at Creativity Central very soon.

    Do you know that I actually mindmapped my August blog posts? LOL. It just makes it seem so straightforward and do-able.


  3. Don't know whether it's right or left brained, but it does seem to help free up your ideas. As long as you don't censor yourself during the process. You can do that later.

    Let your mind come up with all kinds of ideas, characters, plot ideas, associations, themes, whatever.

    I find it helpful when starting a book and whenever I get "stuck."

    Let me know how it works for you L.J.

  4. Dani --
    I do FAPping with fiction. Hadn't considered trying it with blog posts since, for me, those are research and nonfiction.

    Interesting idea, though.

  5. Hmm, I sometimes sit and sketch out ideas as they come but it usually came under another name.... daydreaming. ha! But a good technique to keep in mind.

  6. Day dreaming is good. I sometimes think of something just as I'm drifting off to sleep, then, of course, forget it by the morning. When I'm in the middle of a book or project, I keep a pad and lighted pen by the bed for when I wake up because of a dream.

  7. I've never tried FAPing in quite this way. My technique is usually to open a notepad file, blindfold myself, and then start typing ideas and thoughts as they come to me. Your idea sounds like fun too, though. I'll have to give it a try.

    By the way, I found your blog on and since you're obviously into writing, I wanted to let you know about a new e-zine that me and a few writer friends are putting together.

    It's called The Oddville Press.

    You should check us out if you're interested--it's free to subscribe, hey! Or better yet, submit something!

    Thanks a bunch!

  8. Hi Steph.

    There's a chance if I tried the blindfold technique that I'd end up with thirty minutes of gibberish. I've been known to get my fingers off-key when I've got both eyes open!

    Went and looked at The Oddville Press. Looks interesting. The staff hails from all over! It'll be fun to go back and check out the first issue next month.

  9. For someone who has as much trouble outlining as I do, this is a wonderful idea to try!

  10. Even if you still feel the need to outline, it'll give you material to start with so you're not facing a blank page.


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