One question I get asked a lot is how I get my ideas. I don’t have a concrete answer for that because most come to me at the most random time unexpectedly. It’s not some formal process I follow to generate ideas for my next book.
My not a process, process is to have an idea for a story pop in my head at the most inconvenient time. Like when I’m in the shower or at yoga. Two places where I don’t have something immediately handy to record my idea. You wouldn’t believe how many ideas have come to me that way and that I could not remember by the time I could write it down.
Pathetic, yes, I know.
However, those ideas are usually vague story ideas. They’re not fully developed storylines. It takes a lot of brainstorming (at least for me) to come up with enough ideas within a particular storyline, so I can piece together to make an entire book.
The main story idea is the easy part. The rest of it is what makes me want to pull my hair out.
One aspect I enjoy about being an author is figuring out the storyline because it’s like a puzzle. Though it can be incredibly frustrating when your characters aren’t doing exactly what you want them to do.
Seriously! Isn’t it crazy how they don’t behave? I know people are unpredictable, but I didn’t realize until I wrote that even imaginary people are unpredictable.
I know I’m not the only person who struggles with being able to figure out all the scenes to get from the beginning to the end of their book. Not to mention the dreaded middle. So, I thought I’d write about how I brainstorm for my novels.
The most important thing you should do when sitting down to have your novel brainstorming session is being open-minded. You may have a story idea in your head, and that’s great but be willing for it to head down a different path than the one you think it’s supposed to go down.
If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know that your characters have a mind of their own and don’t always listen and do what you want them to do. If you don’t allow them to dictate where the story is going, it will make your writing life miserable. You can’t fight the muse so don’t even try.
Besides not being open to new ideas kind of defeats the idea of brainstorming in the first place, doesn’t it? The definition of brainstorming is to produce ideas (literally – I looked it up). The nice thing about writing is you can always hit the delete button. So it’s fine to go off in a new direction you didn’t expect. When you go back and read what you wrote you and hate it, you can delete it and forget it ever happened.
The second most important thing in your brainstorming journey is to have colored pens and post-it notes. I truly believe that fun planning tools help get your creative juices flowing. I’m only a little joking. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m not joking at all.
I couldn’t live without post-its and colored pens. They are vital to my productivity. Writing would be boring if you only had white paper and black ink.
Am I right?
Once I have the right materials, the goal of my brainstorming session is to solve the problem of creating content for a 60k book when all I have is a 3 sentence idea.
Getting started is often the hardest part of the brainstorming process, but don’t let the blank page scare you. Once you get going, the ideas will come. They may end up coming faster than you want. Now that doesn’t mean they’re good ideas, but that’s fine. Sometimes you need a lot of bad ideas to find that one good one. At least I do.
If I could make money from bad ideas…I would be filthy rich.
When you brainstorm, take one thought at a time and try to exhaust the possibilities before moving to the next.
For example, if you know that Jack is the victim of a gunshot wound and he’s going to be found by Jill, You have a few places to start with your brainstorming.
1. Where is Jill going to find Jack?
2. Where was the gunshot wound?
3. What was Jill’s reaction?
Let’s take #1 Where is Jill going to find Jack.
Pull out your post-it notes and write all the places you can think of and put them in your notebook or whatever you use to stay organized. I keep mine in a notebook because I can peel off the ones I’m using and move them to a different page. I keep all the old ideas for later.
TIP: NEVER toss old an unused idea. You never know when it might fit a different story.
You can probably come up with 25 places or more, but not all will be ones you want to use. Let’s say your 3 favorites are:
1. The garden
2. The Library
3. The car
That gives you 3 different scene possibilities. You then brainstorm ideas on each one of those.
1. The garden
A. She finds him by the roses, is that symbolic?
B. She finds him in the fountain thinking at first he drowned which sends her down the wrong path at first
C. She doesn’t find him. Her dog finds him as he’s hidden in the bushes.
Get where I’m going? Instead of trying to find the perfect idea that connects to the next, come up with several and then decide what might fit. Trying to hone in on one will slow you down if not stop you, and you’ll spend hours on one scene.
I’m constantly surprised at how often I go with the idea that wasn’t my first choice. It often makes for a much more interesting storyline than anything I’d originally envisioned.
Also, set a timer, so you don’t spend 3 hours brainstorming ideas for one topic. I usually set my timer in 15 minutes increments. It’s long enough to get more ideas than I’ll ever need and short enough not to exhaust my brain. My brain exhausts easily. If yours doesn’t, then you can brainstorm longer.
When you brainstorm, don’t focus on trying to figure out how these ideas might work together. Focus on generating ideas. What might not fit for your current WIP may be a perfect fit for your next.
Go grab your post-it’s and get started!
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