A Note About Brainstorming

I am in plotty/brainstorming territory as this week draws to an end.  I’ve been keeping up with my daily chunk on the YA WIP, but I’ve also been doing some plotting on a Mirus novella (it does seem to be shaping up to be a novella rather than a short story–I’m so BAD at keeping things really short).  It’s some of the backstory to DOOM, and I managed to plot my way through the midpoint, after which I got stuck with no clue what happens in the second half of the story.  I mean I knew there was a rescue involved, and I had a crapload of questions I knew needed answering, but no clues as to the nature of those answers.

I was chatting last night with pal Andrew Mocete, excited over my progress, and I mentioned my conundrum, sketching out the basic lines of the plot and the questions I needed answering.  So he ripped out four or five possibilities.  I’ll admit it.  My gut instinct was to discount all of them, not because Andrew isn’t awesome (because he is), but because at first glance, my brain said “Oh, no, that won’t work because of x, y, z.”  I have this tendency to avoid brainstorming much with folks other than Susan because no one else knows my world as well as she does (since she’s been around from the beginning).  But it was close to bed and I was grateful he spent the time, so I was a good girl and said thanks and that I’d ponder and sleep on it.  And then I woke up this morning with the answer, which was a spinoff of his most outrageous suggestion!  Genius!  And I don’t think it would’ve happened if I hadn’t consciously taken myself out of that negative headspace and given time for the ideas to percolate.

In a similar vein, yesterday I was doing some brainstorming with Mhairi Simpson on her latest WIP.  She was stuck as well, and I was using my reflective listening skills (look at me finding outside uses for my therapist training!) to kind of rephrase what she said she needed, couching it in terms of story structure and the missions of assorted plot points, as well as some important points about character arc.  And something I said jogged her brain such that she figured out the last quarter of the book and can now figure out what she needs to seed for the middle.

I realize this is kind of rambly and tangential (which is unsurprising considering I totally fell back asleep on the sofa when I was supposed to do my workout this morning and my brain feels like something akin to reheated oatmeal–SO SLEEPY), but my POINT is, I think, that you shouldn’t avoid brainstorming with people who don’t know every little detail about your WIP or world.  Sure some of what they say won’t work because of those reasons, but you NEVER KNOW when something will fire up your brain (even after the fact) to send you sprinting along beyond whatever had you stuck in the first place.  Consider the possibility that the Universe is putting that person willing to brainstorm in your path for a REASON and take the time to listen.  

7 thoughts on “A Note About Brainstorming

  1. It’s rare that other people actually hand me something that just works in my world, but it’s also not often that I actually get anywhere knew and come up with that stuff without them. Other people come up with the stuff I never would, the stuff that’s not so predictable or already played out in my head. A lot of it, yeah, you just know that’s not right in your gut. But other stuff you go, no, that won’t work. But why? And then you mess with it until it could fit and realize it’s the best idea ever.

    Andrew is especially good at this. One conversation with him changed the whole ending of Heroes Under Siege and gave me a handle on the book after that. Because he’s just that awesome. And that’s why I’m Fandrew #1.

  2. My husband actually came up with the idea of WHY the stuff in my current WIP is happening. We brainstormed about that a long time ago. I think it helps him take my writing more seriously when he’s involved. Sometimes help comes from places you never expect. My hubby has great ideas, he just can’t put them down on paper. We should never discount help from someone just because we think they can’t possibly help. It’s weird how things can work out sometimes.

  3. You’re absolutely right. Like you, I tend to discount suggestions from people who don’t know much about my project. And I shouldn’t. They are not bound by the chains of my story (like I am) and can be a little more creative. I am glad Andrew helped you have a breakthrough. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I typically only brainstorm with other people at high level. Typically it’s just to figure out if the story sounds interesting or not. That’s the key. And sometimes, I’ll mention that I’m stuck on something. And not really to ask for feedback, but just talking it out, usually triggers the background process to give me the answer :).

    My wife has helped me things like “that character name is good” or “that’s a horrible name for a city, change it to X” (my current WIP are set in modern world but I wanted a fictional city to play around in).

    And I don’t know if they need to know too much about your world to help. I mean even Harry Potter is really a basic story. If you were brainstorming on it – instead of Muggles you could just say Normals (short for normal people). If you have weird names from a fantasy or sci-fi novel, just give them a simple name for now. You map it later.


  5. This is the perfect scenario of the student and teacher. When the student is ready the teacher arrives. You never know what someone might say. Or even the message they may have for you…

  6. I regularly talk my boyfriend’s ear off when seeking ideas for my WIP. Some of the funniest dialog has come from me and him talking about characters and how they would react. On the other hand, some of the ideas are just too weird to be written down…
    He’s also pointed out flaws in my WIP that I hadn’t seen or thought were good, but after thinking realized that I can do better.
    At first I did think “you don’t know my world”, but I’ve trashed that thought since. Even I’ve had characters who shouldn’t be able to use magic cast spells. First drafts….

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