Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoughts from the Reject Pile: Tips on Brainstorming

I know I've written about this topic before, but the last time, I wrote about it in retrospect, remembering how it had worked for Cloudland, with that lovely rosy tint of memory coloring my thoughts (ok, fine, it was more like the sludgy brown film of frustration, but whatever.) Now that I'm freshly enmeshed in brainstorming my new idea, I find that I have some new ideas to offer.

To be entirely honest, I found that out because I kept cutting sections about brainstorming out of other posts. Once I had collected a bunch of rejected paragraphs, I decided I could shmush them all together into a brand spanking new post. And here we are - the reject pile!!! Isn't that exciting??

So what I realized is that brainstorming takes a very specific shape for me. Yes, sometimes I do write out ideas, and explore them, via a sort of stream-of-consciousness conversation with myself. But more often than not, I just write.

I know this seems self-evident, since, y'know, I'm a writer, but that's how I brainstorm best: by writing. Not by freewriting, although that's the catalyst, but by actually writing out scenes.

When I'm brainstorming, ideas often occur to me as fragments of prose or dialogue. So, when I'm developing each, I write out a brief scene-let that's built around that fragment. I then end up with lots of little bits of writing, which I call "freewriting". Right now, I have at least two or two bits for each of my ideas of lives for my two souls. Then once I have a fragment of a scene written out, I can see how the idea works, and where my characters want to take it. More often than not, these fragments don't end up in the finished manuscript, but sometimes they do. The first chapter of Cloudland came directly from one of my freewrites.

So, how does this actually work?

Well, I know I want one of the stories in this new book to involve a love affair between a Greek god and a mortal. When I was first brainstorming that idea, I was trying to work out a bunch of different things: which god, what kind of affair, how they meet, who they are, etc. I settled on Apollo as the god, and then I had a flash of an idea, a fragment of prose, really, about how they might first meet. It appeared in my brain as "The first time Apollo saw him... The second time Apollo saw him..." and so on, with each "time" being a new paragraph briefly detailing each sighting, following a rising arc of action that begins with the first sighting and ends with Apollo actually meeting this person. I then thought of the myth that Apollo, as the god of the sun, rides a chariot that pulls the sun across the sky, and decided to use that: the sightings happen when Apollo is in his chariot, making the sun rise.

(Yes, I know that it was actually Helios who pulled the sun, and that it was only later that this became associated with Apollo, but this is all part of the glorious freedom of artistic license.) 

So, I wrote that flash of an idea out. I have no idea if this will end up in the finished book, but it helped me figure out some things about Apollo and this unnamed to-be lover of his - for example, that at the time of the first sighting too many of Apollo's lovers have suddenly died or been transformed (thank you, Greek mythology), and, heartbroken, he's committed himself to celibacy; that this new to-be lover has been determined to seduce Apollo since childhood, and may actually have orchestrated all of these sightings, setting up a nice little conflict very early on; and so on.

Since I swore to myself that I would never, EVER share any of these brainstorming bits in this blog, because they consist of unfinished, unedited, weird writing that is for my eyes only, I naturally decided to post a little bit of this example here today! Hooray for self-humiliation!!

Remember, this is TOTALLY UNFINISHED. It might really, really suck. Here's that first paragraph, anyway:
The first time Apollo saw him, it was in a curving glance of golden light: his limbs bending up the long grass, each fine thread of muscle and sinew coiling with life; his hair black and wind-blown in the first drawn breaths of dawn. Swift and easy he raced up the shadowed slope, chasing after the flickering white tails of his herd. The god stilled his hand on the chariot and the horses reared back in plumes of flame, and the sun settled its burning arms low on the rim of the world, and so the day began with wildfire and black smoke instead of the rushing stream of rose Apollo had intended. 
And that, my friends, is what I call brainstorming.

39 comments:

  1. I think a lot of us writers mold stories around those bits of scenes that come to us.

    Funny you should post this today. Mine has a similar theme. ;)

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    1. Great minds... right? ;) Heading over to your blog now.

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  3. I wonder if writing little bits would help me? The last time I wrote a scene, it was to be the end of the story, but I ended up scrapping it as it didn't fit with the rest of CassaStorm's story line.

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    1. It's worth a try. I do often scrap the bits I write, but just writing them helps me figure out plot and character, so I think it's worth it :)

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  4. I don't plan ahead very far when I write. I discover almost every scene by following one word with another. And another. Sometimes, though, I get to the end of a scene and discover it was purely atmospheric or went in the wrong direction plot-wise, and I end up cutting it. But I never discard any of them. I keep them all in a "dead darling" file for later use. Sometimes they get reinserted at a later time in the novel and sometimes they become whole new stories on their own.

    And nice excerpt there. :))

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    1. Oh yep, I'm keeping all of the rejects!! They may never get used, but I'm keeping them anyway.

      Thanks!

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  5. Thanks for the post! I'm in brainstorming mode atm. And I loved the excerpt! (Not like fake-love-let's-be-polite, I actually loved it.)

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    1. Well, hey, thanks!! I really appreciate it. It's always hard for me to tell if these brainstorming scene-lets are great or terrible!

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  6. Wow, you have a great way of brainstorming. I've starting writing down random thoughts that come to me in hopes I'll expand on them someday.

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    1. Now that's something I always mean to do and always forget to do! I think I lose a lot of ideas that way. Thanks for the reminder to keep trying!

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  7. I think most writers brainstorm. I like the way you do it!

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    1. Thanks Sherry! Yep, it's a necessary evil ;)

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  8. Sometimes my ideas do meld together- or some are too similiar and one has got to go! =)

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  9. Oh I love this. I want to read more. This brainstorming of yours is incredible.

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    1. Wow, thanks so much!! I really appreciate the encouragement. It does help!

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  10. Usually I write free, but for this next book I'm using an outline- we'll see how it goes.

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    1. I'm doing the opposite for NaNoWriMo! We should trade war stories ;)

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  11. I like it - great imagery, esp. the curving glance of golden light.

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    1. Thanks!! The encouragement is great - I have zero perspective on these little fragments :)

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  12. Fantastic description!

    Coming up with ideas is always easy for me. It's the whole writing them down part that'll get ya :D

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    1. Yeah, darn that writing down stuff! Always taking up too much time.. ;)

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  13. This definitely doesn't suck. Love it! The excerpt left me wanting more for sure. :)

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    1. Thanks so much!! That's great to hear :)

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  14. Another great post. Heads up. I'm nominating you for a Liebster Award. Get your answers ready. ;)

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    1. Hey, thanks! And thanks for the heads-up. I think I know what to do this time :)

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  15. Liz,

    I thought your excerpt was fantastic! Very well-written.

    I plot my stories similarly. Last year's NaNo book was a bunch of scenes tied together (loosely...well, one scene after another with no transitions)

    Great post. I'll try to get to the other two, but have to visit others and begin NaNo! Good to see you.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. Thanks!!! It's great to have you back :)

      No worries about getting to the other two! Just glad you stopped by!

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  16. Nice brainstorming! I liked the visuals in your excerpt.

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  17. Nicely done -- great descriptions! I like your process. I come up with better ideas as I go along, too.

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    1. Thanks! I hope my ideas get better as I go along... I'm not always sure that's the case ;)

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  18. I agree! Great visuals! Brainstorming is perfect because you can write anything and it can be as crazy as you want it to be.

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    1. I know, isn't that nice?? It's freeing to just WRITE.

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  19. Don't be humiliated, your excerpt is great!

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  20. Wow, great excerpt. My brainstorm looks more like brainscatter and needs a lot more time to flesh out and piece together, but it gets ideas onto paper and that's the first step. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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    1. Thanks! Sometimes my brainstorm looks like random craziness, too, and sometimes I get actual coherent thoughts :) I never know which one is going to happen!

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