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How Do You Brainstorm?

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I was talking to @Rohierim in Discord, and he suggested this topic.

How do you brainstorm? What techniques do you use to brainstorm? Do you listen to podcasts/youtube videos? Do you just do a sort of "stream of conscious" thing? Do you look for writing prompts?

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When you say brainstorm, do you mean more idea generation, or idea development? Those are 2 separate things for me.

Idea generation... is more free flow I think. 'Wouldn't it be cool if' kinds of things. Throwing ideas out there, see what sticks. Word association is good, write down the thing you want ideas about, and write 10 things you associate with it underneath. 'Hot air balloon' - swagging, candles, wind, cold air, sandbags, spectacular views, wizard of oz, the colour red, steampunky clockwork, glass. You can go into a word bubble thing if you want as well.

Idea development is the next step. Once I have a vague idea of what's happening, I do a free form 'word vomit' explanation of it. I usually ask myself, 'okay, what do we want to happen', then write several paragraphs describing things that could happen. This is usually super messy, and jumps around as new ideas pop up, or I'll have several versions, one after another (okay, but what if they... and start a second 'what happens' explanation).

If I get stuck, a great exercise is to write down 5 things that are likely to happen, and 5 things that are very unlikely to happen. This usually gets the brain turning, helps you start thinking of obstacles. It works even better if you filter these through the character's POVs, what does MC think is possible and impossible in this situation?

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Every story starts with an idea and I generally don't brainstorm those. Those are ideas that come to me out of the blue, triggered by whatever I happen to be doing at that moment. Maybe I misread something and that triggers an idea. Or maybe I'm watching a movie and expect it to go a certain way. It doesn't, but that triggers an idea. The initial ideas for stories are all around us. It's just a matter of recognizing them when they appear, which I believe becomes easier the more you write and think about writing. 

Some of those ideas live in my brain for a very long time, dormant and waiting for me to try to turn them into a story. Others, I actively think about and try to expand upon. That's where the brainstorming comes in, because an idea is just that, an idea. It's usually very far from a fully fleshed out story. I'll turn the idea over in my mind, think about what sort of character would fit (if it's not a character idea) or what sort of setting would fit (if it's not a setting idea). This process can take anywhere from hours to years since I may not think about the idea every day, and coming up with enough good ideas to turn it into a story is really hard. Sometimes inspiration strikes me when I'm not looking. Other times I have to worry the problem like a dog with a tick until I figure out what I need.

The most important things, IMO, are being able to recognize what the story is missing, and which parts are working and which are not. All of the brainstorming in the world isn't going to help if you can't identify the plot holes.

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I flatter myself that I've perfected the process of brainstorming, and it's not just boasting to the extent that I can't recall the last time I didn't have an operable project, or one within an hour of realizing I had exhausted by previous list. Last time I described my process to a friend they described it as being very systematic and I don't think that's wrong. For the most part I don't bother with intentional prompts, though I've never turned down a prompt if it sparks something, obviously.

I have three major methods: audio method, puzzle method, and music method. I alternate between them as much as possible so none of the three become stale.

Audio consists of me finding an old radio show, or segment of found audio from my archive (I'm a rabid audio archivist. I download and record all kinds of weird audio files.) and, putting myself into a receptive state, just listen and wait for clips and phrases that I feel like writing down. When I'm done, I've usually already shaped out a story from them, and from there it's just working out details. The sweet spot is about one hour of audio.

Puzzle method has me sitting and doing a crossword, usually though I've used logic puzzles and others in the past. This is a little more direct, but what I'm writing down here are favorite words and juxtapositions of words from the puzzles. Non-themed, non-cryptic crosswords work best for this because the clues and answers are more arbitrary.

Music is the most straightforward of all. While I've conceived of doing stories built from specific albums, generally I use a randomly generated or found playlist. Stumbleupon used to be great for this, and I miss it very much. This method sees me building a story a scene at a time, based on order of songs. This is my most thoroughly methodical style of brainstorming, and requires either simultaneous outlining or straight up writing as I go to be effective.

Most of all, I think it's just a matter of training your brain to see the story potential in anything, and to open yourself up to so many kinds of stories that you don't miss one just because it isn't what you're already doing. So finally, and this isn't a method, I just pay attention to everything. More than just sometimes a story just pops out of the chaos of every day existence.

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8 hours ago, Penguinball said:

When you say brainstorm, do you mean more idea generation, or idea development? Those are 2 separate things for me.

Idea generation... is more free flow I think. 'Wouldn't it be cool if' kinds of things. Throwing ideas out there, see what sticks. Word association is good, write down the thing you want ideas about, and write 10 things you associate with it underneath. 'Hot air balloon' - swagging, candles, wind, cold air, sandbags, spectacular views, wizard of oz, the colour red, steampunky clockwork, glass. You can go into a word bubble thing if you want as well.

Idea development is the next step. Once I have a vague idea of what's happening, I do a free form 'word vomit' explanation of it. I usually ask myself, 'okay, what do we want to happen', then write several paragraphs describing things that could happen. This is usually super messy, and jumps around as new ideas pop up, or I'll have several versions, one after another (okay, but what if they... and start a second 'what happens' explanation).

If I get stuck, a great exercise is to write down 5 things that are likely to happen, and 5 things that are very unlikely to happen. This usually gets the brain turning, helps you start thinking of obstacles. It works even better if you filter these through the character's POVs, what does MC think is possible and impossible in this situation?

Guess this is what happens when I make a post before having to go to work and don't really explain things 😛

Since @Rohierim is the one who posed the question (basically) in the chat, I'll let him clarify if I'm wrong, but I think in this case he meant idea development.

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For inspiration I might listen to music or watch movies that have a similar 'feeling' to what I'm after. 

I go on a lot of walks because that clears my head. Physical activity like chores or basically anything like that.

The key is to 'forget' the idea and let it bubble away in the subconscious while you do other stuff. 

In development stage I'll get a notebook and just scribble everything I know all over the pages and start asking myself questions. This can take up an entire notebook or only a few pages depending on the story.

With enough combination of focused attention and deliberate 'forgetting' I can usually generate some answers.

Eventually this loose heap of ideas has enough meat to it that I can start building story structure.

Not sure if any of that made sense but it may help someone!

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Brainstorming... a lot of the times if I watch movies or see something random lying around, I'll come up with something then I have to write it down almost right away if possible. Then afterwards I just go with it and see where it takes me.

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I walk around with a head full of ideas for a while, then I open a random doc and dump everything there without care for structure, eliminating contradictions, etc. I just write down all the cool what-ifs, ideas for the setting, character concepts, everything. Then I leave it for a few days before carefully re-reading it and doing my best to separate stuff that could work together from stuff that is maybe cool and deserves to be written down for later use in a different story but doesn't go well with the rest of it. Sometimes I "rinse and repeat" a few times. Once I feel I have the hang on the basic ideas for the story and setting, I start actually planning/outlining it and coming up with more stuff to fill in the holes as I go. Then I start writing and come up with even more stuff. 

That's the closest I've gotten so far to having something like a brainstorming process. 😅

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I also find I get a lot of ideas when I'm explaining the idea to someone else. Explaining it requires me to have the idea in a semi logical order, and just the act of describing it usually pops a bunch of other ideas into my mind. So there's an option.

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57 minutes ago, Penguinball said:

I also find I get a lot of ideas when I'm explaining the idea to someone else. Explaining it requires me to have the idea in a semi logical order, and just the act of describing it usually pops a bunch of other ideas into my mind. So there's an option.

This happens to me too. Sometimes I'll start a forum post looking for feedback/help on something that has been giving me trouble and I'll find other holes that I missed or I'll figure out something to fill a hole. I usually don't end up submitting the post. Actually having to put it into words that someone else can understand has a tendency to reveal the rough edges.

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51 minutes ago, Banespawn said:

This happens to me too. Sometimes I'll start a forum post looking for feedback/help on something that has been giving me trouble and I'll find other holes that I missed or I'll figure out something to fill a hole. I usually don't end up submitting the post. Actually having to put it into words that someone else can understand has a tendency to reveal the rough edges. 

lol this is exactly what happened for me the last THREE times I went to ask for help. By the end of the post draft I had figured it out 😛

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I get a lot of ideas from the stories around me. It's often something I think is cool in worldbuilding, or a dropped plot thread, or a story that veered left when I swore it would go right, or a concept or character, or a stupid ending, or something of that nature. It's any concept my brain seizes and goes "Ooh! Playground!" I also have rolling desktop wallpapers (changes about every 20 minutes) that I use to keep me in the story mood. I collect art from online, anything that sparks ides or lights the "Ooh! Playground!" part of my brain and turn them into wallpapers.

I also keep on the lookout for real life stories, of the true or untrue variety. Cryptozoology figures big in several books that need monsters, I have pulled from myths of every land to populate my stories with unique ghosts or demon-like critters, and even the black-eyed children make a cameo in one. A real life harrowing tale of being trapped in a rockslide or entering an enemy village could easily find itself converted to a fantasy journey or battle, and I have never forgotten reading about the experiences of a real life runaway. Her story has colored my characters all my life.

 

On 7/8/2019 at 7:24 PM, roadmagician said:

The key is to 'forget' the idea and let it bubble away in the subconscious while you do other stuff. 

This is actually very sound advice. I was in a writing class with an actual published, popular author, and one of the things she taught us was how to find our "muse."

For her, her muse was an image in her mind, a little blue bird. When she needed ideas she would do a mental trick of "shunting" it to the bird--that is, the back of her mind--to percolate. Then she'd go do something else. When an idea needed her attention she'd get an image of her little bird, only instead of being blue it would have turned red. The little bird was basically her subconscious, and she found a way to tune into it without getting so distracted she missed things, no matter what was happening in her life.. She'd also have simple conversations with it, answering "no" or "closer" or "almost there" as ideas were presented.

It was a pretty fascinating trick, and everyone in the class loved it.

 

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