I recently read a blog post by Bill Kirton on his blog and it got me thinking about the wonderful technique called Clustering. Bill shared the story about how he recently encouraged several women, none of whom were writers, to create some fictional characters and how they met with resounding success.
Free-association allows the unconscious, creative part of our brain the freedom to access possibilities our conscious mind can't always access. Gabriele Rico wrote a book titled Writing the Natural Way. I've lent it to several people, some of whom never returned it--necessitating the purchase of a replacement copy. (More than once!) One of the creative writing techniques she teaches is called Clustering.
This is how her website describes it: "A non-linear brainstorming process, clustering makes the Design mind’s interior, invisible associations visible on a page. Clustering becomes a self-organizing process as words and phrases are spilled onto the page around a center. The Sign mind begins to see pattern and meaning, and the writing flows naturally into a vignette."
This is how she, herself, describes it: "A cluster is like an expanding universe, and each word is a potential galaxy: each galaxy in turn may throw out its own universe."
Even if you have no problems dreaming up plots and characters, even if your prose flows smoothly and swiftly at will, you'll benefit from this book. She also talks about many other creative processes and has written several books. Check her out at http://www.gabrielerico.com/.