Effective Brainstorming

Brainstorming is one of my favorite parts of writing fiction, but I'm very careful to make sure my brainstorming time isn't just time wasted daydreaming. This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

Effective Brainstorming

How to Make the Most of Collecting Ideas

Brainstorming all aspects of a story can be made more effective and efficient with these simple tips.

Brainstorming is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal. A writer can brainstorm all aspects of a novel, from large scale to small scale.

A writer can brainstorm high level element like theme and premise.

A writer can also brainstorm mid level story elements like character personality, external goals, backstory, career. Also story setting, possible villains, etc.

A lesser known but equally powerful use for brainstorming is for very small scale elements like a character’s goal for a particular scene, possible character decisions in a scene, variety of conflict or obstacles in a scene, etc.

It is possible to utilize brainstorming time efficiently.

Don’t Criticize Ideas

When a writer is in the flurry of coming up with a variety of ideas, that creative process utilizes the right side of the brain.

Criticism and analysis utilizes the left side of the brain.

When a writer is fully in right brain mode, the ideas tend to come faster and be more creative. However, most people have problems getting themselves completely in that right brain mode.

One way to do that is to try to shut down left brain activities as much as possible. This includes analyzing any ideas you come up with.

If a writer can only keep spitting out ideas, without pausing to analyze any of them, the brainstorming time will be more creative, colorful, and effective. The writer will come up with more unique ideas, more interesting plot points, more unusual characters.

After the brainstorming session is over is when it’s best to switch to left brain mode and start analyzing and culling those ideas just generated.

Have a Specific Goal

Sometimes it helps when the writer has a goal being targeted. For example, the writer may start the brainstorming with the firm goal of only brainstorming ideas for the character’s career.

When the brain is targeted this way, the brainstorming time can be much more efficient. A specific aspect of the story is being investigated and ideas are being generated for that story element. Once enough ideas are down, the writer can move on to some other element.

Utilize Tools That Work for You

Each writer is different, so experiment to figure out which tools work best for you.

Some writers simply type ideas or write them on a sheet of paper.

Others use Post-It notes or index cards and write one idea per note/card. The advantage of this is for visual writers who like seeing the ideas arranged spatially—Post Its can be stuck on a wall or a door, and index cards can be arranged on the floor or a table.

No way is the “right” way or the “only” way, so determine your way and go for it.