Short Brainstorming Session

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

This week week we talked about ways to kick-start our writing and how to get out of a writing slump.  Now, over the weekend, I encourage you to put some of these ideas into action.  Namely, I’d like you to do a short brainstorming session.

Weekend Prompt:

Go somewhere “out” where you can work without interruption.  For me, that’s a local cafe.  For you that might be a library or a park bench.  Wherever you choose to go, make it somewhere different from where you usually work so you can get outside your comfort zone just a little bit.

What you need:

• 45-60 minutes
• Notebook or pad of paper, and writing implement
• Watch or cell phone or some way of tracking time

Step 1: State the Problem

Determine what it is you need to solve through brainstorming.  Write it at the top of the page.

Step 2: Generate Ideas

Time yourself for ten minutes.  Write down as many possible ways you can address this problem as you can think of in ten minutes.  Here are just a few things you could try if you’re stuck in a certain part of your book:

• Turn a moment you mention in passing into a full-fledged scene.
• Add or subtract a character from the story, or combine two characters into one.
• Follow a supporting character “off-stage.”
• Narrow down your timeline so the story takes place over a shorter span.
• Change something central to the story: like the point of view (POV) or the setting.
• Change a key detail about your main character.
• Engage the 5 senses.
• Get rid of chapter 1 and start at chapter 2, then see what happens.
• Raise the stakes.

Step 3: Evaluate the Ideas

Once you’ve generated a bunch of ideas, ask the following three questions about each idea:

1)  What are the positive aspects of this idea?
2)  What are the downsides of the idea?
3)  How can you overcome those downsides and (if possible) make them into positives?

Example: Suppose one of your ideas is to change the POV from first person to 3rd person multiple.

1)  Positive Aspects:  3rd person multiple allows you access into the POV of various different characters, rather than being locked into only one character.  You can also create scenes that your protagonist doesn’t actually witness first-hand because you can show the scene through a different POV character.

2)  Downsides:  3rd person multiple makes it harder for the reader to find a character to “root for” since there are many POV characters.  Also, you have to be very careful about how you change POV so that the reader is not confused by the shifts.

3) Downsides into Positives: Maybe make each chapter a different point of view, and put the character’s name in the title.  Make sure that the protagonist gets more chapters in his/her POV than the other POV characters so that it’s clear who the reader is supposed to root for.

Do this type of analysis for every idea you generated in those first ten minutes.  Once you’ve done that analysis, go back over the ideas and discard the ones that fell flat and save the ideas that seemed promising.

Step 4: Sleep On It

Give yourself a few days to let those promising ideas incubate.

Step 5: Experiment with One Idea

After you’ve taken a few days to let the ideas incubate, choose one and try it out on a scene or a chapter.  Remember: Save your original material so you can go back if this experiment doesn’t work out.  None of this is carved in stone and you can always go back to your previous version.

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