Wednesday, July 15, 2015

B is for Brainstorming

Paula has a fantastic brainstorming partner!

You'd think I'd be able to find someone, somewhere, or something beginning with B in at least one of my novels, wouldn't you? But no, nothing, apart from a couple of very minor characters.

So, instead, I’ll look at the value of brainstorming.

I’ve brainstormed on my own – turned ideas, scenes, and conversations over and over in my mind. Who said writing was easy? Sometimes my brain hurts as I try to work things out!

There’s also online brainstorming – an email discussion with a friend or critique partner, or sometimes a question asked on Facebook. I’ve done plenty of this, with some great suggestions, and also some fun (and very useful) discussions.

However, with no disrespect to my online friends, I have to say a real life brainstorming partner is definitely a writer’s best friend! Back in the 1970s, when I was writing my 4th novel, I had a friend who was a very good ‘sounding board’ but by the time I started writing again about 6 years ago, she had moved away and we lost contact.

I ‘found’ Margaret, my current brainstorming partner, totally by chance. We've been friends for several years, and she'd read 4 or 5 of my novels. One day she said she had an idea for a story for me, and we met for lunch, and spent a couple of hours discussing this story. In the end, it proved unworkable as it involved too many coincidences, but a couple of the scenes did eventually find their way into what became my ‘Irish Intrigue’ novel. We continued to meet up for lunch as I wrote this novel, and I soon found she was not only listening as I told her ‘the story so far’ but was asking the right kind of questions. She also contributed her own ideas – some I took onboard immediately, while others helped me to develop or clarify my own ideas. At one point, I was unsure what event was going to cause a huge problem between the hero and hero. I made one suggestion, and my friend added just four words (“or with the children”) which provoked a rather loud ‘Yesss!’ from me that made everyone else look across the pub restaurant at us. I knew immediately that she had hit on something I hadn't even thought about until then. 

Obviously, she had a kind of vested interest in that story since her ideas had provided the initial spark for me, so when I started writing my new story, I asked her if she still wanted to meet up to discuss it. She immediately produced her diary, and said, “What day?”

Since then we’ve met up every 3 or 4 weeks, and I always look forward to our lunches, because I end up with a much clearer idea of where I’m going with the story. Last Monday our ‘lunch’ stretched to four hours, but I do wonder what anyone who overhears our conversations actually makes of them – especially when we’re discussing where stolen goods can be hidden!

So many thanks to Margaret, my fantastic brainstorming partner!


  1. How fabulous.

    I've gotten out of touch with my RWA group, I haven't attended a meeting in forever, but the one thing I do miss about it is our critiquing/brainstorming sessions. There's nothing like a good discussion to get the ideas flowing and the muse flexing.

    It sounds like you've found a gem, Paula.

  2. Definitely a gem! Also, because she's a reader, not a writer, she brings a different perspective to our discussions.

  3. That's terrific, Paula! One of my critique partners is awesome at brainstorming, and we meet periodically for coffee to discuss each other's books. I find it's so much easier to work on someone else's, though. :)

    1. Agree it's often easier to work on someone else's!
      Margaret helps me see my storyline/characters through a reader's eyes and I've realised that's very different from brainstorming with another writer.

    2. Definitely! A completely different perspective.

    3. Maybe it's the perspective we all need to see, since we want our books to be read by people who don't necessarily know all the 'rules' about plot or character development, but just want a good story to read!

  4. That's an interesting concept: seeing through a reader's eyes vs a writer's eyes.
    A crit loop partner recently was stumped on the inner GMC for her new hero. Two of us threw virtual ideas at her by asking 'what if.' After ten minutes, she had what she needed. Whether our ideas are what she sticks with, or whether she piggybacks to a new GMC, it was fun to help her.
    Doing it over a sit down lunch would be even better.

    1. I find it very refreshing to see it through a reader's eyes. She wouldn't have a clue what GMC meant! Must admit I don't analyse that either. If you can get the story right, everything else falls into place IMO! I'm a storyteller, not a psycho-analyst!

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