Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Jolly School of Wordsmithery: Methods of Brainstorming

Methods of brainstorming

The first step of writing a novel or short story is brainstorming.
The first step of writing a novel or short story is to have a quiet cup of tea. This stimulates your brain for ideas. Plus tea is delicious. 
When you have the idea, assuming you didn't fall asleep in front of the toasty, cracking, warm fire, you need to write it down so that you remember it. Because trust me, you won't remember it.

Now, it is time to brainstorm your story idea. The seed has materialised, but it has not been planted yet.
There are a handful of methods of brainstorming your story. Because you are different and unique (like everyone else), you will need to decide which method of brainstorming works the best for you.
Luckily, the top methods are the subject of this blog-lesson... Bloesson.
I love it when I invent a new word.

Let's take a look at the top five methods of brainstorming your book.

Method One: Freewriting
Freewriting is the method of writing randomly until your hand drops off.

Freewriting is the method of writing randomly within a set goal about your idea. All you have to do is bear your little idea in your head and write. That's it.

Set a minimum amount of words, maybe somewhere between 500 to 1,000. Or set a time limit, possibly half an hour to an hour. Within your chosen limit, sit in a quiet room and write any random old nonsense or gibberish related to the idea you had.

Don't stop to think about what you are writing. Don't pay any attention to grammar, spelling or whether you're making any sense. Just write. Let your brain take full control of your fingers (no offence, Thing, from Addams Family).

You may also consider closing your eyes while you are typing, which may help some people type away with little visual distractions. However if you're working in a nuclear power station and sometimes write during periods of boredom, please keep your eyes open.

At the end of your set word limit or time limit, you are free to read what you have written. You will probably find that most of it is random gibberish or will resemble the illegible ramblings of an inbred psychotic cult leader (no offence to inbred psychotic cult leaders). But you will be able to pick a few lines of ideas from your freewriting to use as plots, subplots, locations and character building.

Admittedly this method could take a long time to come up with something incredibly useful because you may need to perform your freewriting several times. But some authors will swear by this method and say it works. So give it a try.
Personally, I think it's bollocks.

 Method Two: Listing
This is simple and easy. But it can get messy and disorganised at the beginning.

Jot down every single idea you have into one big list. Names of characters, place names, plots, subplots, dialogue ideas and so on. This method can drag on for a couple of days, but that's fine, because rushing is not a good idea.

When you believe you have a decent amount of notes in your list, go through it again and separate everything into specific lists. Create a list for main character development and write down all the ideas you had on it. Do the same for plots, places and so on.

Eventually your big list of disorganised ideas and suggestions will have been organised and condensed into several specific lists. You have your characters, plots and so on right in front of you in several lists. Everything that you decided not to use, you can simply save for another story in the future.

Now you have to create another list (this is great practice for writing shopping lists at Christmas too when you begin realising that alternative gifts are cheaper). In this final list, write down a summary of how your story will roll out, in order. What happens in the beginning, middle and end? When do we meet certain characters. When do certain subplots appear? And so on.

Now you have your lists, you can use them to create your story and tick them off as you go along.

It starts off as a messy pile of random lists, but as time goes on, your lists become your character developments and story plans.

This is a great method for procrastinators. Like me.
Unless you procrastinate over writing things down in a list.
Like me.

Method Three: Mapping

This is the method of brainstorming that you've probably done before in school. You know, when your dictator teacher orders everyone into groups, gives them a massive piece of paper and a marker pen then tells them to draw a "brain chart". The kid with the messy handwriting withdraws to the back of the group in shame and the artistic kid proceeds to draw a cloud around the big word in the middle as opposed to what normal people do, you know, a circle.

Basically, you need to write your main idea, for example "plot" or "main character" into the centre of a sheet of paper and draw a circle around it (or a cloud if you're one of those types). Then sprouting or branching from that middle word, you write all the relevant and important details relating to that idea.

This is what a normal brainstorm map or brainstorm chart looks like:

This is what a nerdy-artistic brainstorm map/chart looks like:

This is what a brain storm looks like:

Method Four: Research

Research is a good method of brainstorming, especially for books set in the past, alternate histories or for specific details such as the behaviour of animals. For some reason, despite the fact that fiction writers write, well, fiction, which means "made up", people sure do get really upset when facts are not correct.

Researching topics related to your idea is a great way to build up on your novel. Read up on the country that the novel is set in, see if the names of your characters have any meanings (readers LOVE trying to read between the lines), find out about the clothes people wore during the period the book is set in and so on. Like I said above, people get incredibly grumpy when you get facts wrong, despite the fact that the book is made up fiction.

During research you might even find some tidbits which could make interesting subplots. 

Hint: Facebook is not research. (Unless you're writing a book about dysfunctional strangers, illiterate morons and drama queens who don't do anything but sit on the computer all day).

Method Five: Building Blocks 

One of the easiest methods is the building blocks method.
What you do is write out your story in short paragraphs, from start to end.

Write a paragraph describing the beginning of the book, then several paragraphs for each chapter of your book and finally write a short paragraph for the ending.
Basically your draft will look something like this:

The cat walked into the room. He sees his owner asleep on the sofa. Spots the fire is on.

Cat naps in front of fire. Dreams of catnip and the ladycat next door. Wakes up.

Cat walks into kitchen. Finds bowl empty. Very shocked! Makes a plan to save the day.

Cat wakes up owner by meowing, licking and pawing him. Owner wakes up.

Owner goes in kitchen and opens cupboard. No cat food! Shock! Horror! Cat upset.

Lady next door hears cat crying. Knocks on door and gives cat food. Owner invites her for meal. Ladycat invites cat for singalong on the rooftop. End.

That's your story plan. Your building blocks. Now you have to add more information and "filler" into your building blocks, building it up into a full-blown story. It's an easy method which may help your story get written a tad bit quicker (but remember, a rushed story is a bad one).

Recommended books
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To determine which of these five methods work best for you, try them all out. We are all different.

Do you have a different brainstorming technique (that works)? Tell me about it!


  1. Thank you, this really helped me so much. The laughs helped too. :)

  2. This really helped me so much. Thank you!

  3. Brilliant information. I am going to use both methods three and five for my novel that I have been putting off for far too long. Thank you.


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