Ideas: Brainstorming

Ideas: Brainstorming

Welcome back, loyal listeners, to the first cast of the new year! We hope your 2016 is filled with fantastic fiction. Unfortunately, we had numerous technical difficulties when recording this, so the quality is noticeably worse than our usual casts. We do apologize for that and promise that next week will be a return to our normal broadcast excellence.

But maybe you’re stuck for ideas. Or maybe you have too many ideas and you don’t know what to do with them. Here, we discuss ways to take the seeds of your ideas and flesh them out until they resemble some sort of narrative.


Ask the Author: Why do you write? –Stephen McLain

Aaron: I write because I love to, and I have to. It’s the only way to see how my stories will turn out. Also, it allows me to focus on the real world when I’m not writing, rather than simply day-dreaming all day, every day.

Al: I write because I want to (I enjoy it–most days), because I think it has value (most days), and because it is part of my nature. I drop into depression if I stay away from writing for very long. It’s an addiction. Also writing projects vary so much that each is a new adventure. There is something about creating a world full of characters on a blank page.

Molly: I’ve always been a writer. It can basically be summed up in my favorite quote from Isaac Asimov. “I write for the same reason I breathe. Because if I didn’t, I would die.”

So you’ve got an idea. Now what? It’s time to do some brainstorming. Here’s a few ways to do that:

Al: First, let’s understand what we mean by brainstorming. Brainstorming is the process of creating ideas and judging their value, workability, and appeal to readers. Businesses brainstorm in groups, writers usually sit alone and let ideas fly.

Things to keep in mind:

  1. Most writers have more ideas than they can handle, but at some point the writer has to choose one, finish it, then move on to the next great idea.
  2. For those wanting to publish, the idea they chose must be marketable. In other words, the author must factor his/her readers into the formula.

The process:

  1. Freeform thinking is the process by which the writer allows his/herself the permission to imaging anything and everything. Imagine you’re windowshopping. There are many things you want, but which one do you want most?
  2. Write something down. Scribble a line or two on a pad of paper, or type a few lines in the computer. The act of writing something gives an idea weight. [Illustration of Dean Koontz and Odd Thomas.]
  3. When you explore an idea, what comes to mind first? A character? A situation? Some of my books came to be because of an event, sometimes the character just appears to me. It’s almost never the same.
  4. Live with the idea for awhile. If it’s a great idea it will still seem great two weeks later. Let a little time pass and test the idea again.
  5. Write a few pages. How does it feel? Does it feel right? Do new aspects of the idea pop up in your head. If not, then throw it away, it’s not for you.
  6. The practice pitch. Pretend you’re pitching the idea to an agent.
  7. The persistent idea. A good idea haunts the writer. If it isn’t haunting you, it probably won’t haunt anyone else.
  • Strategy 1: Bubble mapping (association–following the rabbit trail)
  • Strategy 2: The bullet list
  • Strategy 3: Writing short synopsis
  • Strategy 4: Collaborative brainstorming I do this with my coworker. I give him a word or phrase and ask for his immediate reaction.
  • I will often just keep writing whatever comes to mind for five minutes. At the end I cross out whatever doesn’t apply then work with what’s left and put it into one of the formats mentioned above.

Now, what do you need to flesh out?

  • Your characters
    • Protag
      • Supporting protag(s)
    • Antag
      • Supporting antag(s)
    • Auxiliary and facilitators (characters who make the action happen.)
    • Arc?
  • Your setting
    • Where?
    • When?
    • Why?
  • Your plot
    • Where are you starting?
    • Where are you ending? (You may not know this at first but you will know if the ending is going to be dramatic, sad, hopeful, etc.
    • How do you plan to get there? Al: I recommend the three act structure. You don’t have to have all the details but you need to know how not to let “sags and lags” drag your plot down.

You technically don’t need to select “final answers” from your brainstorming. The goal is to get a vague image and to start with that (for discovery writers). Outliners will likely want to wait until they have “final answers.”

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