How to … Part 1

So far I have crafted all of my posts before as general advice about a certain subject.  Which is all fine and dandy, leaving it open to a variety of humorous to sarcastic comments that give a basic understanding of my thought process and how I approach my own particular writing.  But, today, I thought I’d try something new.  Try to add something fresh and unique… sort of unique … type of post.  The ‘how to’ type of post.  Except I’m not going to tell you how to do it, I’m going to tell you how you can do it and what has worked for me.

The first one to tackle, in my mind anyway, is the beginning of the writing process.  Now, I’ll state right now that I’m not an expert.  I don’t have any authority or any degree that can say “Yes, do this as this is the right way to do it.”  Even if I did or was, I wouldn’t, because I firmly believe that each of us has our own unique, and correct, approach that applies to only us.  Much like religion.

So, let us begin!

*Fair warning:  This post is LONG!

How to: Brainstorm for an Idea


Every story begins with an idea.  Very rarely do we wake up from a night of restless sleep with a full-fledged idea that causes us to rush to the computer and three months later blink to find a finished first draft in front of us… in fact I’ve never heard of that happening, not to say that it hasn’t, I just haven’t heard of it.  So, since the odds are against that happening, we will focus on coming up with an idea.

There are two ways that an idea comes to us.  Sometimes, and this happens to most of us I’d bet, you’ll be walking through a parking lot and get hit with inspiration.  Or you wake up from a dream and you have an idea.  Once you have that idea, it becomes a matter of fleshing it out, which I will talk about at another time.

Other times, nothing pops to mind as for a writing idea.  I’d have to say that between the two, this one happens the most often.  Especially after finishing a recent project.  Today’s post will tackle this frequent issue for writers.  There are many, many, many sites on the web that can give a ton of ideas on how to go about brainstorming for an idea and I could bore you by repeating them all verbatim, but, as I said, that’s boring.  Instead, I want to give some ideas that are outside the normal standard operating procedure.

Let me repeat, these are what I use personally.  It may, or may not, work for you.  All I have to say is what would it hurt you to try it out?

What If?

Question mark liberal

This one is my particular favorite and one I use for the fleshing out ideas so don’t be surprised if you see this again.

The What If method is a form of the Q&A process.  You ask a question and try to answer it which will then generate more questions and answers… until you run out of questions (but not answers).  The beauty of this process is that you’re limited by only your imagination.  The difficulty is that sometimes you can stare at those words What if and come up with nothing.  Sometimes I have managed to jump-start it like this:

What if I could actually come up with a good idea?

You may be surprised at how well that actually works to get the idea going because the answer could be: Then I’d become a famous writer and it may be true.  Or maybe that’s just my daydreams….

Probably the greatest success I’ve ever had with this particular method is when I include family and friends.  You’d be amazed at what they can come up with when you play this game.  My family calls it, surprise surprise, The What If game and when you include kids it can get really wild.  Or when you include your Dad who is a science fiction nut and comes up with the question: What if you could direct an EMP?  You’d be able to take out the idiot drivers as you go past….

Yeah, have I mentioned that my family is outside the box?  If not, well we are, so just roll with it.


English: Dreams-Composition by Plismo = paul b...
English: Dreams-Composition by Plismo = paul b. toman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Find me a writer who doesn’t day-dream and I’ll say I’m sorry to hear that.  I really am, by the way, sorry if you’re one of those who doesn’t day-dream and if you were a friend I’d ask a few questions… but since I’m not, I won’t.  However, anyone who day dreams will find this one easy…if you can have a topic to day dream about.  I personally feel that this includes the dreams and wishes of things we wanted to try, but haven’t been able to for a myriad of reasons.  For example, I have a few friends who really wanted to join the military, but wasn’t allowed to for one reason or another.  It’s not that much of a surprise to find that a fair bit of their writing centers around being in the military. It’s what they wanted and since they couldn’t get it the traditional way, they improvised.

For me personally, I tend to day dream about action sequences.  Being the kick ass CIA/NSA/FBI/… some law enforcement agent who brings down the big bad guy and come away victorious.  I’m always on the side of good, but often I’m misunderstood, alone in my burden, and I stay true to my course no matter what.

(Yes, I know what the Freudian experts would say about my day dreams, but let it go…)

I also have day dreamed being a fighter pilot (the best of course) or being in space… the list goes on, but I have found that many of my day dreams are inspirational for characters.

And just so you guys don’t think I’m really super weird, I also use my day dreams to work through dialog so it’s useful in many different ways.

Words have a power all their own
Words have a power all their own (Photo credit: Lynne Hand)

The Word Game

I really enjoy this particular method, but sadly don’t use it often.  I tend to get too distracted by the game itself to put it to good use.

The premise is this:  Pick a word, any word (not the simple words like I, an, and, for, is, or…etc.) then just run with it.  Build upon that word as you can.  Write a sentence with the word in it, or a paragraph, or a scene.  Starting with one word can lead to more I’ve found.  The other great thing about this is game is that it can do wonders for your vocabulary.

Involving the Kids/Family/Friends

English: brainstorm room

Initially I was just going to say to involve the kids, but to be fair, not everyone has kids they can involve so I’ve included friends and family.  This is also going on the assumption that your family and friends support your dream of being a writer.  If they don’t, then this may not work for you, but I’m going to assume at least one person is encouraging you in some way or fashion.

Anyway, while not everyone has aspirations of being a writer, I have found that when you announce that it is your dream to become a writer, you’ll find that many of the people you know have an idea.  Now, I’ll admit, a fair amount of the ideas that have been suggested to me over the years had me go “Yeah, maybe.  It has potential.”  When it probably didn’t.  However, with that said, while the whole idea may be lacking in some form or another, it has the habit of sparking the creative juices into coming up with something completely different.  Which is good because you needed an idea and that’s what you got.

Kids, on the other hand, are a real hoot when they realize that Mom or Dad wants to be a writer.  Several things happen:

  1. They also want to be a writer and you’ll find them jotting down stories (or copying a book they are reading) then showing it to you to show that they can do it to.
  2. They beg to read your stuff and then pout when you explain that what you’re writing isn’t kid friendly (like I want my daughter to read about an alcoholic assassin in a hostage situation) then beg for you to write a story they can help with that deals with unicorns, rainbows, and a flying city.  Or, if you have a boy, cars, trucks, motorcycles and/or Autobots (Decepticons are the bad guys, can’t write them as good guys as my son told me).
  3. They give you a ton of ideas as they come up with them.  My daughter Raven will come out of the blue and mention an idea without even realizing it.

My opinion is that kids are a great source of inspiration because they haven’t become cynical like us adults who have dealt with life without the protective influence of our parents after we moved out.  While parents can’t protect their kids from everything (no matter how hard we try), when they are still in the single digits of age, their world is safe with us (I hope) and they give us the innocence we lost once we hit (enter age)…

So these are a few of my out of the box ways that I brainstorm for a new idea.  I know this has been a long post, but hopefully worth it.

With that said, if you have any out of the box ideas for brainstorming I’d love to hear it!


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