How to Brainstorm

How to Brainstorm to find you next novel idea.

“Where do your ideas come from?” “How do you know what to write about?”

People ask authors these kinds of questions all this time, and I don’t know if there’s a good answer. A great idea isn’t something that authors are blessed with and nobody else can ever know. Most ideas come from a combination of things like imagination, observation, interests, and life.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to spark an idea. (It’s the follow through that can be tricky.) You can watch the news, listen to a song, or have a conversation with an old friend and–BAM!–the idea pops into your head.

The world and its history is an immensely fascinating place, and, try as we might, we will never know all there is to know about the people, places, stories, and pasts that make it up. And when you look at the world like that–a brilliant sphere brimming with untold tales–suddenly, sparking an idea is not only easy, its almost compulsive.

Of course turning a great idea into a full length novel is a beast unto its own, and that is another blog post for another day. But if you’re struggling coming up with ideas, or just want a peek inside some brainstorming processes, I have a couple of tips to help you.

Ask Questions

More specifically, ask “What if…” This is by far, my favorite, because you can take almost any story or movie or book and see the question “what if” at play. For example:

  • What if Les Misérables was set in space? (The System Divine Trilogy)
  • What if a man was stranded on Mars and had to figure out how to survive? (The Martian)
  • What if a girl dying of cancer falls in love with a boy dying of cancer? (The Fault in Our Stars)
  • What if Cinderella was set in the future? (The Lunar Chronicles)
  • What if a best-selling author is held prisoner by his number one fan? (Misery)

I could keep going, but I think you get the point. And it’s not just genre fiction that can use this as a jumping off point. Any situation can be created by simply asking the question “what if.” What if you were the lone survivor of a plane crash? What if you found out your significant other was cheating? What if you lost a child? What if you woke up and found you had transformed into a giant bug? (That one’s been done, but you catch my drift.)

Pay Attention

As I said before, the world is a fascinating place. All you have to do is look around and you will find ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They run marathons, and travel to space, and raise large families and survive cancer and jump off of bridges and solve mysteries. The list goes on. Just watch the news or open a nonfiction book. People are fascinating.

Another area of life I find fascinating is history. Look at history from around the world and you will find story after story of heartbreak, heroics, and horrific behavior. And you don’t have to write historical fiction to use history as a jumping off point.

Keep it Personal

What are you passionate about? Chances are, others are also passionate about that same topic. And when you start to pull through things you love and connect them to some of these other points, you might find that a story idea emerges.

For example, look at Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles. Meyer had always loved fairy tales and they were influential part of her childhood. She also wrote Sailor Moon fan fiction. When you understand that background, you can see very clearly where her idea for the Lunar Chronicles came. Be true to who you are and what you love, ignore trends and just write what sets you on fire, and you might be surprised what ideas you come up with.

The Concept Mash-up

Admittedly, I was never a fan of this until I sat down to write the query for the novel I will be pitching this spring. The concept mash up is the marketing tool that publishers, agents, and writers trying to sell their work often turn to. Think of it as taking two well-known stories and putting them together. “It’s Lord of the Rings meets Guardians of the Galaxy.” or “It’s Indiana Jones meets a League of Their Own.”

I will be the first to say I don’t like this. BUT, if you are struggling to get the idea train moving try taking two well-known movies or books and putting them together. This is often referred to as a “high concept” idea or story, and these kinds of stories are in high demand. Publishers like “high concept” because they are easy to place in the market.

Take your two favorite movies or books, add a what if question and some personal touches, and you suddenly have a unique and interesting story idea.

Ideas are everywhere if you take the time to just notice the world around you, consider your passions, and ask questions. Next time your stuck, try one or all of these tricks to get start your brainstorming and get writing!

What would you add to this brainstorming list?


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