Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Brainstorming Your Next Bestseller
by Debby Giusti
Some writers can take a sliver of an idea and develop it single-handedly into the next bestseller. The rest of us need to jump start the creative process by brainstorming.
American advertising executive Alex Osborn developed the technique in the 1930s, and since then, brainstorming has been used in business boardrooms, in academia, in the arts and even in the world of romance novels to generate a wide range of new ideas.
Initially, I thought writers developed stories on their own with little or no input from others. You can imagine my surprise when, after a monthly Georgia Romance Writers’ meeting, I heard published authors mention their quarterly brainstorming retreats. Within that group were such notable writers as Deborah Smith, Sandra Chastain, Nancy Knight, Virginia Ellis, Donna Ball and Deb Dixon of GMC fame. They talked about building on one another’s ideas to end up with story lines far more satisfying than they could have created working alone. These were successful women who between them had published more than 200 books with millions of copies in print.
Didn’t take me long to realize I should follow their lead. Soon I joined with other unpubbed GRW members to brainstorm our stories. At each gathering, creativity was given free rein, and the results were amazing. Whether we were discussing our own books or someone else’s, we all benefited from the sessions, honed our storytelling craft and became more adept at developing compelling plots and engaging character.
These days I brainstorm the major story lines for my books with my critique partners, Darlene Buchholz and Anna Adams. Often I’ll fine-tune a specific plot point with my family as we gather around the kitchen table or with my husband when we take our daily walks.
So how’s it work? Here are some basic guidelines:
1. Gather a group of folks—three to six people—who are interested in fleshing out story ideas.
2. Allot at least thirty minutes to brainstorm a manuscript before moving on to the next one. Assign a timekeeper so every story gets equal time.
3. The first writer presents a general overview of how she plans to develop her story and asks for input in certain areas. For example: If the writer is having trouble with character development, she might ask for character traits and motivation that would make her heroine react in a specific way.
4. Criticism or negative comments hinder creativity and should be put on hold.
5. The group throws out ideas, sometimes in rapid succession. Often one comment/idea will dovetail with another or will spark a new direction for exploration.
6. Thinking outside the box should be encouraged.
7. If the focus becomes skewed, the writer can redirect the discussion to a path she believes would prove more fruitful, once again, using positive comments rather than anything negative or critical.
8. At the end of the time period, the writer reviews the suggestions she feels have merit and thanks the group for their help before the next writer takes her turn.
Brainstorming works so give it a try!
By the way, the six GRW authors I mentioned brainstormed their way into the publishing industry when someone threw out the idea of creating a small press where Southern writers could find a home. The way I heard it, Deb Dixon gave voice to the concept as they drove to the beach for a week long brainstorming retreat. By the end of the week, BelleBooks was born. To date, they’ve published over thirty novels and anthologies, which they claim represent “Southern Fried Fiction At Its Finest.”
Wishing you abundant blessings,
Watch for Debby's next book, PROTECTING HER CHILD, in May 2009. YULE DIE will be out in December 2009, and KILLER HEADLINE will follow in February 2010.