Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How to Brainstorm The Novel That Sells

The scenario: You just finished a manuscript, have some free time, and notice on FB several friends chatting about getting to work on the writing. This is a good idea, maybe you should be, too. "I'm in," you post. Except your mind is totally blank

Not a word comes to mind.


It's like being invited to play with all your friends on the playground only to see there aren't any swings left. 

An idea pops in your head and for a moment, seems like a great novel to write. 

Wait--step back to when you were a child on the playground. Picture yourself playing in the wood chips or sand near the swings. It's just not good enough.

What you want is the idea that causes you to leap--for real. Get physical about it!  Get in someone else's face, and blurt out the rough ideas and say, "Isn't this an awesome idea?" The smile on your face will grow even wider as more details pop in your head. Spill a few of those words to the friend--and before you finish your sentence you'll run to your computer and start writing.

Wait for it--step back to the playground scene again and watch yourself running to the monkey bars. You giggle, and swing to the next bar. The friends on the swings look your way and say--"Wait for us!!"

Are you pumped? Ready to get started? This was our warm up for today's brainstorming session.

Although I would love to have a brainstorming partner, (you, too?) there isn't always one available. I must admit, I was jealous of Beth Vogt's FB posts about her brainstorming sessions with Cathy West. Apparently, they were able to take a vacation together and, while there, plotted out Cathy's next book. Sigh. You and I will have to book the next trip. Until we have a fabulous opportunity like that here is a plan B for you to brainstorm with yourself.

1. Start with the easy part. Your genre. Most likely you will stay with the same genre. This is what you know. You've read other books in your genre and know what has been done. BUT, a close friend of mine recently had a burning desire to dabble in a different genre. Dabbling is good. It helps renew your energy, drive, ideas, scope, perspective--and will take you on a whole new adventure. Dive in, the water's good.

2. Since the whole idea is to sell the novel you are about to write, working towards a fresh take is essential. Let's look at the three most important components that can make a story "fresh": characters, setting, and theme. 

a. Characters - Consider switching up the norm. For example-How would the Cinderella story change if she was a boy? Scarlett O'Hara was a man? The villain was the hero? The hero was the villain? Meranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada was reserved but yet still had her job? Jack Ryan from Tom Clancy's books was a chef instead of an analyst?

Perhaps some of these seem ridiculous--yet Despicable Me (villain turned hero) was a blockbuster mostly because of the fresh ideas.

b. Settings - Consider setting the time and place away from where most stories go. I have seen a lot of big city and small town. Can't say I've seen many desert, ocean, everglade, cave, etc. settings. I have heard editors say they prefer not to buy stories set in foreign lands--BUT books about characters who have started in the States and ended up in another country have been published. 

Readers enjoy books about places they dream of going. Take your characters to the bucket list places: Paris, Denali, Mt. Everest, Shanghai, Jerusalem, the Fjords, Bahamas, North Pole, the Amazon, etc and let the characters do what the readers wish they could do: bungee jumping, scaling a mountain, skydiving, fly a glider, see Santa, swim with sharks, deep sea dive, pick a cocoa bean, play in a band, etc. And the best part--don't let MC be an expert. The readers aren't either. Bungling through an experience brings humor, tension, joy, sorrow, etc.

c. Theme- Consider a really important point you would like the character to discover, learn, master. What is something you wish you could figure out? This seems to be the best choice for a current novel. By helping your character conquer and learn, so hopefully will you--and your reader. You'll have the passion to write this one.

For example: I wish I could make better use of my time. I give my potential character this problem. As a result, she misses something very important, losses a crucial piece of paper, gets lost in the wilderness, burns the meal she intended to serve the president of the company, has to pay more for her airline ticket--and she doesn't have the money--so she has to beg her worse enemy--and...

Once you have settled on these three items, the rest is going to start flowing. Yes, there will still be days when the blank screen stares at you. We'll have to dive into that form of brainstorming another time. For now, lets move up the ladder from the ground floor.

Michelle Lim from My Book Therapy has written a book on this topic, Idea Sparking (Click here to see her book)

What questions do you have?
How can we help you?

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

photo courtesy of and modified for this purpose.

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Great stuff, Mare!!!

Sandra Stiles said...

These are great tips. My brainstorming partner is my husband. He is not a writer. He has great ideas and a wonderful imagination. If I'm stuck he'll take time out to brainstorm a list of things that could happen next. What usually happens is that one of his ideas will not only get me unstuck but will also move me in an unexpected direction. Sometimes an idea will pop into his head and he will give me a brief run down, tell me to write it down so when it has sat in my brain long enough a story will come out of it. Sometimes my ideas come from brainstorming with my students. The best ones come from me doing round robin writing with them. Sometimes I give them a prompt and sometimes I don't they write for a set amount of time then pass the story to their neighbor who continues it. I listen to their remarks, comments and suggestions to each other. I walk around with a notebook and write down bits of what I hear and often that sparks an idea. I keep all of these ideas in my writers notebook which I carry with me, especially around school. I want students to understand that stories and ideas come from all sorts of places.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thank you, Amy!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Fantastic ideas! I forgot about carrying around a writer's notebook. I do that too! This year mine is green and has a soft cover and is already half full of many random pieces of information, thoughts, quotes, reminders...etc. Two sentences of a story idea--two stories from now is in there. It keeps coming back to mind. Maybe it should be the next story, eh?
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your great experiences!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Mary, I love these ideas. I always consider brainstorming to be one of my weaknesses. You've made some super suggestions here! I loved the ideas of switching up the hero/heroine. And the idea of taking the MC's to a bucket list place. That got my juices flowing. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Jeanne. I think many of us would like to have a brainstorming partner, but that isn't always possible so we need to invent new ways to do the job. Right?