Brainstorming Ideas

One of the most common questions writers are asked is, “Where do you come up with your ideas?” Some writers can tell you exactly where an idea came from. They saw a news segment about the subject and started piecing things together. Others will tell you that they honestly don't know. They woke up one morning and it was as if the idea fairy came during the night and left a few ideas under their pillow. In other words, the ideas are a direct result of their imaginations.

A good book to help develop your stories and ideas is The Fiction Writer's Silent Partner by Martin Roth. The text offers thousands of facts, possibilities, and “what ifs” on topics ranging from characters and possible careers to unusual locales.

Jump-Starting Your Imagination

Prolific authors know that they can't sit around and wait for their imaginations to kick in. Sometimes imaginations, or muses as they are often called, need to be jump-started. Below are some tips to get your imagination fired up. (Remember to take notes as ideas come to you while following these tips.)

  • Read the newspapers. Many novels read as if they were ripped from the headlines for a reason. Numerous plots and characters were inspired by newspaper articles.

  • Take your skeletons out of the closet and dance with them. Think of all the secrets you don't want to talk about. Whispered secrets make good plot triggers.

  • Face your fears. What are you the most afraid of? How can you turn that into a plot?

  • Make lists. What are the top ten worst things that could happen to you? (e.g., Your house burns down. Your husband wants a sex change operation.) Now, think about the people you know. What would make their top ten worst list?

  • Play the “what if” game. What if you came home and found an unconscious man on your living-room floor? What if you walked into the bank while it was being held up? What if your mother told you that she kidnapped you from your real parents? What if you found out aliens really did exist?

  • Host a brainstorming party. Invite some friends over to help you come up with unique story premises and plots. (They don't even have to be writers, just creative people.)

  • Join a writer's organization. Inspiration is contagious. Nothing can get your brain working quicker, or help you learn faster, than surrounding yourself with other writers. To find a local writer's group, call the local libraries, check the Internet, or log onto RWA's Web site ( to find the closest chapter.

Taking Ideas to Possible Plots

Not all of your ideas will be usable. As a matter of fact, some of them may be downright laughable. And that's okay, because part of brainstorming is thinking outside the box. Some ideas may consist only of the seed of a character, others may be snippets of a situation. What's important is that you have some ideas, no matter how big or small, with which to work.

It is a good idea to keep a file of your brainstorming results. Make sure to include all of your ideas, even those that seemed too farfetched. On a new day, you may see this idea with fresh eyes and realize it has merit.

As you comb through your notes, notice any two ideas that share themes, or that convey similar emotions, and consider the possibility of combining them. Could one be the perfect subplot or perhaps a plot twist to another?

Next, find the one idea that excites you the most — the one that truly sparks your creative nature. (Remember, you will probably spend the next six to eight months — depending on how quickly you write — with this idea, so it has to thrill you.)

Fleshing Out Your Ideas

Once you think you have your chosen concept, it's time to flesh it out. If your ideas consist mainly of a character, it's time to put them in a situation that will cause the most tension and will test their abilities. If it is a situation, it's time to create characters in which the situation will have the most dramatic effect.

The ease or difficulty in which stories are born does not necessarily affect their outcome. Some great American novels came into being in a flash; others were labored over for years. If an idea continues to nip at your thoughts, even if it doesn't seem to work at first, don't disregard it. It may just need more time to gestate.

Don't forget, this is a romance. Linking the love story and love interest into the external plot and developing it early on is important. Most writers have a tendency to want to write the stories in the order in which the idea comes to them. Focusing on the romance angle as you brainstorm can save you from having to rewrite the beginning scenes. (For more on plotting, see Chapter 8. For more on creating characters, see Chapter 10.)

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