NaNoWriMo - WEEK 1 - Planning
3. Five Tips to Better Brainstorming
|"What if the hitchhiker were wearing ballet slippers?"|
These are my personal tips for NaNoWriMo. You know the drill. Take only what works.
Yesterday, I jotted down a “seed scene.” It’s not going anywhere, though. It’s just a dead end… at the moment.
Traditional NaNo advice would be to just push ahead. Jot down another scene. Then another. Whatever jumps into your head.
I used to do this to myself all the time. I’d think of a scene and write it down as a Chapter 1, and sometimes even keep going all the way to Chapter 3 or 4…and then BAM. Inspiration flatlines, and the book dies on the operating table. Not fun. Especially if you do this six or seven times in a row. I’ve a large file of books that have never gotten past Chapter Three.
Rather than go down that road again, after I jot down my seed scene(s), I decided to pause and figure out where I’m going. Since the whole novel is a formless, gooey mass right now, that’s going to take the Power of Brainstorming. The difference between brainstorming and randomly writing down whatever pops into your head is that you aren't trying to find out what you're writing about it while also trying to write a scene. That's the hardest way. Instead, you're letting your imagination run wild in all the million directions it wants to before you write the scene.
It's a pretty critical difference. (Although, if you're a newbie writer and winning NaNo is something you're worried about, I hereby give you leave to include your brainstorming session in your wordcount. It won't actually be necessary, you'll find. But do it if it makes you feel better. Why? Because this is just as important a stage of writing a novel as the scenes themselves. Give yourself credit for it.)
Here’s five tips to Better Brainstorming:
1. Talk to yourself.
I picked up a free app for my phone which records my voice, and I have long conversations out loud about my story. Then I replay it and take notes.
2. Talk to someone else.
I also forced any unfortunate victim who entered my orbit to help me brainstorm my story. I had no mercy. It might have been better to bounce these ideas off my fellow writers than my 2 year old and the lady at the Bakery but we take what we can get.
3. Scribble in your notebook.
I also like to scribble down my ideas, with—you won’t believe this!—my actual hand. This is an ancient technology, called, in the Old Tongue, “writing by hand.” I learned it from a shaman in Brazil while high on tarantula poison.
4. Ask Questions Like a Reporter.
Imagine you’re a reporter and ask all the Wh Questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How? And most important of all…what are the stakes?
Make a Decision Tree.
For every question, consider two or more possible answers. For instance, here’s some questions I am asking myself: What if the MC’s best friend is a ghost? What if she is almost a ghost but comes back alive? What if she is apparently (but not really) a ghost? Then I do branch questions out from each of those questions.
Orson Scott Card describes his brainstorming technique in How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. One of his best tips is to leery of the first idea that pops into your head: it’s usually a cliché. Push deeper.