Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Brainstorming Strategy

Writing a book isn't easy. Writing a book that's going to rise above the rest is even harder. We ask ourselves all the time how we're going to make it happen. What makes a story different?

When I sat at the lunch table with Steve Laube at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, he told a story that surprised me. He was talking about another conference he'd been to. One of his agent buddies had been holding a paper under the table. When he asked what he was doing, the friend said he was marking each storyline he'd heard during the appointments scheduled that day.

I was shocked when I heard his account. Every story that I would've thought had an interesting plot line had as many as seven tallies beside it.

What could a writer do if all the great ideas were not only being pitched in scores at writers conferences, but were considered unoriginal?

He got me thinking. How do we write something new and fresh, something so different no one has written about it or written in the same context?

That same week, for the first time, I had a brainstorming session with a group of friends and new people. This session solidified the importance of brainstorming. Getting together with a few people you trust to throw ideas around can make the difference between a good story and an amazing one that'll stand out from the piles of manuscripts agents and publishing houses get every day.

If you don't have a group of friends or a writers group that can help, don't worry. You can do it on your own.
  • Start by listing the story idea you have in mind, act by act, point by point.
  • On paper, create branches from each major point.
  • Write all the possibilities of directions the story can go at that point.
  • Raise the stakes by picking outcomes that have a twist on the usual character or situation.
  • Pick the next major point you want to feed through your story.
  • Branch this one out as well, coming up with all possible outcomes.
  • Raise the stakes again.
Cut out each outcome and twist so that you can organize and reorganize them into the pattern that works best. Keep branching out and raising the stakes all the way to the end of your storyline and you've got a winner.

Keep in mind, if you've read it before, you probably need to brainstorm some more until it's so different you can't think of a book like it.

Have you had any brainstorming sessions? How'd they work for you?

4 comments:

  1. What an encouraging and inspirational post.
    I usually don't have a brainstorming session but I keep a small notebook with me everywhere I go and when a story idea hits me, I write it down. I plan on referring back to the list of ideas and see if there are other books out there that are similar and go from there.

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    1. That is very wise to carry a notebook or get a memo app for you phone for those sudden onset ideas. I always regret when I don't write mine down right away. Thanks for stopping in Melissa.

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  2. I do get discouraged when I have found a new twist only to find it has already been done to death. I haven't done a brainstorming session with others, but that is a great idea. I get most of my ideas in bed during those long sleepless nights when the story just won't stop.

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    1. Me too, Kate. I wish the agents would say, "Hey nobody's done such and such. Could you try it?" It would revolutionize writing for those that can write that way.

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