plotting

Brainstorming Techniques for Writers & Bloggers

I had an epiphany recently that vastly improved my approach to writing and blogging. I’d somehow fallen under the notion that the only way I knew of to generate  writing/blogging ideas was to free-write (write without stopping or editing) until the answers came. And, yes, that kind of worked, but I was getting frustrated with having to write so many blind pages. Free writing didn’t always seem that efficient.

The  best solution is usually the simplest one. There are TONS of brainstorming techniques other than free writing. I knew this but wasn’t using them. Using a variety of brainstorming techniques mixes up the brainstorming process, makes it fun and interesting, and maybe even saves time.

Maybe you’re working on an outline but have a plot hole you’re struggling with, or you’re planning a blog post that’s missing  key ideas. Try some of these brainstorming techniques to fill in the gaps. You probably already know this, but when brainstorming remember to never censor yourself. The BEST ideas come right after the most outlandish ones. Good luck! –Eve Messenger

BRAINSTORMING TECHNIQUES FOR WRITERS & BLOGGERS by Eve Messenger

ROLE PLAY

1. Perspective Shift

Approach your brainstorming topic as if you were in a different place or time, or even as if you were a different person. What if you were in your favorite hiding spot as a kid? What if you were on Mars, in the middle of an ancient forest, in a great library, or sitting at a Paris cafe with  Lost Generation writers? What might your approach be if you were your favorite writer? What if you were the best you living life in your dream situation?

2. Attribute Change

This is like Perspective Shift, except you’re only imagining changing one aspect of yourself. Approach your brainstorming topic as if one attribute about you is different: gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity, nationality, profession, etc.

3. Super Power

Imagine you have a super power that lets you get right to the root of your answer. Explore your topic from that super power perspective. If your topic feels murky, imagine you’re Aqua-man (or Aqua-woman), who can see clearly beneath the water and swims quickly and powerfully toward the solution.

BE A REBEL

4. The Opposite Approach

It’s remarkable what good ideas can be sparked by exploring bad ones. Deliberately try to cause problems for your topic. Now write down those problems and see what solutions come.

5. The Five Whys

In this brainstorming technique, you get to be the little kid who asks “why” ad nauseam. Starting with your brainstorming topic/problem, ask why at least five times: “Why is this happening?” Answer. “Why is that happening?” Answer. And so on.

MIX IT UP

6. Z to A

Write whatever comes to mind starting with each letter of the alphabet, Z to A. For example, let’s say you’ve got a lot of half-ideas floating around in your head and you want to solidify which you should write on. First, solidify your question: “What should I write about in my next blog entry?” Then open up the floodgates to your subconscious and let the ideas flow. Each idea you write must begin with the next successive letter of the alphabet.  The trick in brainstorming is to not beat yourself up about bad ideas. In this brainstorming technique, you’ll come up with 26 ideas. Pick the three best ones.

Zoo animals in YA fiction.

Young people are frustrated by not being properly represented in YA fiction.

X-ray closely the dark underbelly of  publicity for YA books.

and so on until you reach “A”. . .

7. Cubing – D/C/A/A/A/A

Approach your brainstorming topic from six different angles:

  1. Describe
  2. Compare
  3. Associate (what does your topic make you think of?)
  4. Analyze (what is your topic composed of?)
  5. Apply it (how can your topic be used?)
  6. Argue for or against your topic

8. List

This brainstorming technique is simple and straightforward. Just make a list of the story/passage/character ideas and elements you want to convey.

9. Fill in the Gap

You probably already have some solid ideas for your novel or blog post, but now you’re looking to fill in the gap. Make connections from your solid ideas to the one that’s still missing. Build the bridge. Fill in the hole.

10. Commonalities

Parallel your topic with other similar topics. What does your topic have in common with what other writers have written? List the commonalities and apply them to the topic you’re brainstorming.

11. Sentence Starters

Give yourself sentence starters.
“What if ___________.”
“The way this will work is if ______________.”
“The best solution to this problem is  ________________.”

HAVE FUN WITH SCHOOL SUPPLIES

12. Mind Mapping

This brainstorming technique is probably the one many  of us  learned about in school. Get a big piece of paper or a dry erase board, In the center, write your brainstorming topic. Without censoring yourself, write down all ideas related to that topic–the sillier and more outlandish the better. After exhausting all ideas, start connecting them and branching other ideas off of them.

13. Starburst

Draw a large six-pointed star. At the tip of each point write: who, what, when, where, how, and why. In the middle write your topic/goal/problem. Now answer each of your “tip” questions.

14. Index Cards

Get a stack of ten or so index cards. On each one, jot down a key image or idea from your brainstorming topic. Now shuffle the cards, pull out one at a time, read your idea/image, and  brainstorm responses.

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How to Weave Plot Threads Without Going Insane

Recently, I’ve had to face the cold, hard fact that I do not write simple plots. Very “not simple” plots, though I will stop short of calling them complicated. In coming to terms with this, my first instinct is to get very, very nervous, as in: how in the hell am I going to weave all these plotlines together into a cohesive story? Sure, the plot makes sense in my head, but piecing it all together on the page is another matter entirely.

So how do I avoid getting tangled up in plot threads?  Since I don’t personally know any professional writers To ask, I turned to my good friend Google for advice.

One of the first things that pops up is “Calendaring Your Story,” an article by writer Mindy Obenhaus. One of the things she says that really pops out at me is that she is “a visual person, not to mention somewhat detail-oriented.” That’s me, too. I am most comfortable processing information visually, so when it comes to plotting a novel, it makes sense to create a visual representation of my plotlines, a timeline that shows all the major plotlines side by side.

But how?

Obenhaus apparently uses a calendar, a large, desk-sized one. Other writers create Word tables or Excel spreadsheets. Still others use flashcards, a different color for each plot thread. And there are surely plenty of other methods crafty writers have come up with for calendaring their plotlines. (If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please feel free to comment.)

Then I remembered that at a company I once worked for we entered departmental events into an online calendar, with each department displayed in a different color, a multi-person event calendar, something like this:

Maybe this could work for calendaring plotlines, thought I.

So I tried it.

  • First, I found a decent online multi-person calendar at TeamUp.com, a free version that allows you to calendar up to ten different people/plotlines.
  • Then I got to have fun deciding which color best represented each of my major characters/plotlines.
  • After that, I started entering major plot points and, right away, the process got me thinking about my novel in new ways. For instance, I realized that my original plan didn’t logically allow enough time between a couple of key events.

Now the “heavy lifting” begins. I’ll need to really think about each major milestone and decide precisely when it should occur so I can put it on a calendar. I KNOW (as hard as I try to resist this) that calendaring my plot lines will make me much less confused than I was with my first two novels. As convoluted as those first drafts were, I’m thinking surely this will be an improvement.