Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Brainstorming in “Real Time”

Debby Giusti

Last week, I asked my critique partners, Harlequin Super Romance author Anna Adams (photo-middle) and Grammar Diva Darlene Buchholz (photo-left), to join me in a brainstorming exercise. We frequently use the technique to fine tune our stories, but I wanted to determine what we could come up if we started from scratch. As we bounced ideas back and forth, I typed the comments on my Alpha Smart—or at least as many as I could keep up with—and thought you might enjoy seeing how the bare bones of a story took shape.

Brainstorming works on the premise that two heads are better than one. Articulating ideas without a censor overrides the negative voices within and allows creativity free rein. Earlier this year, I posted a blog entitled, “Brainstorming Your New Bestseller.” If you’d like more information about the process, check out the Seekerville archives for January 21, 2009 ( The post included guidelines for getting started and other how-to details about the technique.

Now back to our “real time” brainstorming. Here’s how the session played out:

I came up with a couple of hooks to get us started and threw out small town secrets and returning hero to the group. A helicopter and small plane had crashed a few days earlier so I added a plane crash into the mix as well. From there the discussion took off.

Anna: Maybe the hero survived the crash. Should he be the pilot?

Darlene: Maybe not the pilot but just onboard.

Debby: He’s in the small plane, flying with his friends perhaps.

Anna: Or was he with his family, and they died in the crash? He and his wife were giving the children a last vacation before the parents separate.

Darlene: Because he’d met his soul mate.

Debby: She lives in the small town.

Anna: But they know they can’t be together.

Debby recaps: The hero’s family died. He returns to the small town to reconnect with the woman he loves.

Darlene: He’s moved back to the small town because that’s home.

Anna: The town is Heartwood, GA. After the crash, everyone offers him condolences, and he feels like a fraud.

Debby: What about the other woman?

Anna: The soul mate is avoiding him.

Darlene: She feels like a fraud as well.

Debby: They had a relationship, which ended years ago before he left town. He married and has brought his family back to Heartwood, but why?

Darlene: To de-clutter their lives and return to small town life and basic family values.

Debby: Were they living in the fast lane?

Darlene: The good life.

Anna: But they were disconnected.

Darlene: And too busy.

Debby: That’s why the marriage was floundering. They returned to Heartwood to save their marriage and their family. Now the hero has nothing except his business. Which is what?

Darlene: He’s an investment broker and worked from home.

Debby: The economy turned bad. He lost a considerable amount of money so they had to return to the simple life for financial reasons. The vacation had been paid for before they lost their wealth.

Darlene: They have two children. Ages 4 and 6.

Debby: What if the children were at home with a sitter? He and the wife were the only ones onboard. She died in the crash. Now the hero husband has to care for two little ones.

Darlene: He should be the pilot.

Anna: There’s more inner conflict if he is the pilot.

Debby: Folks in town are compassionate. The plane crashed and burned. He tried to save his wife and was burned doing so. People call him courageous.

Anna: The other woman, the heroine, is the doctor who handles his burns.

Debby: That’s the homecoming angle. He’s been in a burn center in Atlanta, and he’s coming home to face his children. Where have the kids been?

Darlene: With the grandmother. The wife’s mother has cared for the children. They adore and trust grandma.

Anna: Her daughter told her things weren’t good so grandma wonders if the husband killed her daughter.

Debby: Let’s see what we have. Internal conflict: The hero blames himself for his wife’s death. (Moderator directs the group to key elements needed in the story.)

Anna: He’s been living a lie…still is living a lie. Everyone feels so bad for him.

Darlene: He doesn’t deserve their trust and compassion because he’s not who he seems. He’s wearing a mask. Although he was trying to make the marriage work, his heart wasn’t in it. He was trying for the sake of the children.

Anna: Now the burns are on his face so he really does have a mask.

Debby: The children are afraid of him because of the burns.

Darlene: If his injuries were severe, would his mother-in-law still be against him?

Debby: He did maintenance on the plane, but with money being tight, he failed to fix something he didn’t think would be a problem.

Anna: So when the mother-in-law accuses him, he feels guilty.

Darlene: He wonders if his oversight caused the crash.

Debby: What if someone sabotaged the plane and caused it to crash? The mother-in-law thinks the hero did it. That’s the external conflict: He has to prove he didn’t kill his wife and find out who sabotaged the plane and why.

Darlene: Others may have wanted him to die because they had invested with his company and lost their fortunes. They wanted to kill the hero, not his wife.

Debby: Time check: We’ve worked for 25 min.
(Moderator keeps track of the time and introduces new elements or characters that need to be considered.)

Debby: Let’s move to the heroine. She’s a physical therapist, and he needs therapy for his burns. They both grew up in Heartwood. He left, married and then moved back. His mother-in-law--the children’s grandma--came back too.

Anna: Why did the heroine stay in town?

Darlene: Both the hero and heroine had moved on from their past relationship. She’s not a risk taker. Hearth and home are important. She wanted to stay in Heartwood because she likes small town values. He was the one who needed the glitz. She was the small town girl.

Anna: She knows who she is.

Darlene: She’s anchored in what really is important and is happy in Heartwood.

Anna: She’s made friends with the mother-in-law who needed some type of physical therapy, although the heroine didn’t want to get involved with the hero’s family.

Debby: The more the mother-in-law talked about the family--the happy family--the harder it was for the heroine. Hearing about the hero’s happy family made her realize what she didn’t have.

Anna: The mother-in-law continues to need help with the children.

Debby: The children like the heroine.

Anna: She’s an outdoor person. Lots of fun. Perky.

Debby: The hero’s been receiving rehab in Atlanta for three months.

Darlene: He doesn’t know the heroine is so closely involved with his family. She’s falling in love with his children.

Anna: She instinctively knows how to take care of the children.

Darlene: He’ll be frustrated at times because she’ll know what to do and he won’t.

Anna: The mother-in-law tells the heroine something was wrong with the marriage. One of the children overhears the conversation and asks the hero about it.

Darlene: “Didn’t you love, mommy?” the child might ask.

Debby recaps: The heroine is falling in love with his children and also loves him. What’s the conflict?
(Moderator directs the discussion back to the conflict.)

Anna: The heroine knows the hero's not ready to love again.

Darlene: She knows he won’t stay. He left her and left Heartwood before. He’ll do it again.

Debby: What if the mother-in-law builds up the marriage to the heroine and tells her it was perfect.

Anna: Building up the marriage brings comfort to the mother-in-law.

Debby: The mother-in-law and daughter had an argument prior to the flight.

Darlene: The heroine feels she could never take the place of the wife, especially after everything the mother-in-law has told her about the happy family.

Debby: What’s the external conflict?
(External and internal conflict are key elements needed for character development.)

Darlene: The FAA and the local sheriff would investigate and find something is at fault with the downed plane and so the hero is accused of killing his wife.

Debby: The external conflict is the heroine can’t trust a man who’s killed his wife. Could there have been something in his youth that’s questionable and underscores his possible guilt?

Darlene: What if he’s just taken insurance out on both he and his wife. That looks bad. He’s been preoccupied with his work. Right before the crash, he realizes they need insurance, which plays into the motive for murder.

Debby: The conflict should be more than what people in town think.

Darlene: Right now, it’s just two people not allowing their emotions to get through.

Anna: What if she’s the sheriff, and she’s investigating the crash.

Darlene and Debby: YES!!!
(Anna has come up with strong external conflict for the heroine. As the sheriff, she has to investigate the crash. The hero is the likely suspect.)

Darlene: She was the kid who came from the wrong side of the tracks and felt her station was below the hero’s. What if she had been abandoned?
(Darlene refocuses the discussion on the heroine’s internal conflict.)

Anna: The heroine’s mother abandoned her so she feels drawn to the mother-in-law. She also knows what the hero’s children are experiencing and knows they need a mother.

Debby: Time check: 54 minutes.

Debby: Six minutes are left. Can we go deeper? What would Donald Maass tell us?

Darlene: Let’s think about the villain. Maass says villains need to have likeable qualities.

Anna: The villain has to be someone they both care about. It’s got to be mother-in-law. She knew that hubby and her daughter weren’t getting along, and she decided to get rid of the hero.
(Anna has provided a good villain, hopefully one the readers won’t suspect until she is revealed in the climax. Red herrings will be established to deflect attention away from the mother-in-law.)

Darlene: The mother-in-law lost her fortune in the hero’s investment company. She was afraid he was gong to leave her daughter.
(Darlene goes more deeply into the mother-in-law's motivation.)

Anna: If she kills him, the mother-in-law gets to stay with the kids. She didn't think the wife was going to be on the plane.

Debby: Hero and his wife were going to meet at the vacation spot. The wife was going to drive.

Anna: So when the husband is alive, the mother-in-law is even more upset.

Darlene: The mother-in-law has been a good person, a good mother and grandmother, but she’s let her bitterness and anger get the best of her.

Debby: She’d worked so hard to establish a nest egg that’s gone now.

Anna: More important is her daughter’s happiness.

Debby: What if the mother-in-law’s husband had left her, and she had nothing. She’d been abandoned and didn’t want that for her daughter.

Darlene: The mother-in-law had been talked into investing with the hero’s firm.

Anna: She was afraid of money and didn’t know how to handle it because she had so little.

Debby: She was being the loving mother in her mind, trying to protect her daughter from divorce and destitution.

Debby: Time check: 60 minutes. End of session.

In one hour, we went from small town secrets and returning hero to the beginning of a story. The hero was a financial broker who lost his own fortune as well as the fortunes of those who invested with him, including his mother-in-law.

The hero moves his family back to his hometown of Heartwood, GA, in hopes of saving his marriage. He and his wife take a vacation they arranged and paid for prior to their financial ruin. The wife planned to drive and meet her husband at the resort but at the last minute decided to fly with him.

The plane had been sabotaged and crashed. The hero tries to save his wife from the burning wreckage and is burned doing so. He spends three months in rehab in Atlanta while the mother-in-law cares for his children.

The story opens as he returns to Heartwood. Because he took out a huge insurance policy on his wife shortly before the crash, he is suspected of murder. His children have trouble accepting him back into their lives because of his burns. They gravitate instead to the heroine who has helped care for them over the last three months. The children have grown to love her, and the hero soon realizes he still cares about her as well.

The heroine came from the wrong side of the tracks and never felt equal to the hero. Her mother abandoned her, as did the hero, so she has a natural fear of being abandoned again. When the man she once loved--and realizes she still has feelings for--is suspected of murder, the heroine, who is also the town’s sheriff, needs to uncover the truth. The hero’s children have stolen her heart, and the old feelings she had for the hero soon resurface.

The mother-in-law has lost the nest egg she worked so hard to build after her husband left her. She struggled to raise her daughter and doesn’t want her child to suffer the way she did. Knowing the son-in-law will leave her daughter with nothing, the mother-in-law sabotages the airplane so her daughter will receive the hero’s insurance. She never suspects her daughter will be onboard.

Yes, the story needs more work, but we came up with a strong beginning packed with conflict. Further brainstorming can enhance the plot even more. If you have a suggestion, leave a comment, and we can continue to work online.

Hopefully the “real time” example shows how effective brainstorming can be. The process increases creativity. Inhibitions are put aside, allowing fresh ideas to emerge.

If you’d like to improve a story you’re working on, gather a few friends and see where brainstorming takes you. Remember to keep comments positive as you plow forward. There’s never a wrong response, and one idea always feeds another.

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

PS: I’m giving away a copy of my May release, PROTECTING HER CHILD. Leave your email address along with a comment to be entered into the drawing.

Debby Giusti
Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense
May 2009


Wealthy heiress Eve Townsend is close to death. But before she dies, she has to know: what happened to the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-four years before? Did she inherit her mother’s life-threatening disease? Medical researcher Pete Worth is ready to find answers by tracking her down. And when he finally locates Meredith Lassiter, he finds her widowed, pregnant and on the run. The loan sharks who killed her husband want her dead…and Pete is the only one standing in their way.


  1. Hi Debby:

    Great example of brainstorming!

    It is not at all like we brainstormed in advertising meetings. For me it’s a new way of thinking.

    I like how you kept to a theme and handed-off ideas.

    As I was reading this post, I pretended I was part of your real time session and I wrote my thoughts as I read along:

    Don’t badly burn the hero’s face as it would be very hard to vicariously be him and perhaps love him.

    Make the wife partly responsible for the crash. For example, she insisted they take off into weather that the hero was really not skilled enough to challenge. (As in the JFK Jr. crash). Hero is instrument rated but has very few non-VFR hours under his belt. She made him so mad by insisting they get home in time for some event that he took off and then felt he should not have been so weak to give in as he did. So he has guilt too.

    No one would crash a plane to kill a passenger in the plane.

    The hero gets lost in clouds and thinks he is climbing to safety but ‘climbing and descending’ feel the same in a plane. This would be a very intense scene as the pilot thinks he is climbing but is actually heading for a crash into the ground. This type of accident happens a lot.

    Have the wife have the insurance policy as a benefit of her job. Hero knows it’s a lot of money but he had no part in her having the policy.

    This is what I was thinking as I read along. Thanks, it was very enjoyable to play along with your brainstorming session.


  2. HI Debby, Great to see the process of brainstorming in action. Thanks for sharing. Loved the photos too.

    Now I know how you come up with such great stories. Couldn't put Protecting Her Child down. Great suspense.

  3. Great post and I couldn't put down Protecting Her Child either.

    My question, as my CPs don't live nearby and we do everything by e-mail, do you think it's possible to have a quality session by phone?

  4. Hi Vince,
    Sounds like you're our go-to pilot! Great insights into the story, and you've moved us along. So hubby and his wife are returning from the vacation. Did they mend their broken marriage while away?

    You're right, we don't want our hero's face to be too badly burned. He has to remain the handsome hero.

    Your comments about the wife telling the hero to take off in spite of problems play into his internal conflict. Also, thanks for sharing about getting confused in the clouds.

    Hope you could see how one idea led to another during our brainstorming session.

  5. The coffee's ready. Assortments of pastries are on the counter along with sliced melon. I placed bagels, cream cheese and jelly next to the toaster. You'll find scrambled eggs, ham and grits in the chaffing dishes. Enjoy!

  6. Hi Sandra,
    Thanks for your sweet comments on Protecting Her Child. When my critique partners and I brainstorm our own story ideas, we come with a certain amount of the plot already developed. Then we open it up to brainstorming and play "what if."

    When I presented PHC, the girls said the heroine needed to be pregnant, which IMHO made the story even stronger. I never would have come up with that on my own.

    You're right, Anna and Darlene are great cps and fantastic brainstormers!

  7. Hi Walt,
    Brainstorm over the phone? Sure, it would work. Often I'll get a call from a writer who's having problems with a story, and we'll chat about how to make the story stronger. Usually we slip into brainstorming mode as we bounce ideas back and forth.

    Brainstorming works with two people. Having three in the group makes the session even stronger. Can you set up a three-way phone call?

  8. Another comment for Walt.

    When I was considering what to do for this blog post, I thought about a Live Brainstorming Chat. That would work as well.

  9. Oh, I love brainstorming. Love it. I actually have taught it to groups because it's so much fun, relatively quick and bam, bam, bam you've got a story set-up ready to go!


    Great job and what a fun group of ladies to work with. You rock.

    And Vince, I LOVE your additions. Love 'em, seriously, because you've added layers and contingencies that deepen everything.

    The insurance, the push to fly NOW...

    Instrument approved, but not enough experience. Yup, I can see it and feel it.

    Just adds depth to an already unhappy marriage.

    SIGH... What we do to these poor innocent, fictional people, LOL!

    Hey, I brought food today. Delicious breakfast fixings for all.

    Waffles. Go big, build-your-own Belgian waffles layered with fruit, whipped cream, and a selection of REAL syrups for your added caloric intake and eating pleasure, LOL!

    And coffee.

    With real cream. Yup, REAL cream. And some of that delicious Biscotti flavored cream Missy's so fond of since I've been picking on her lately.



  10. WOW, Deb, I am SOOO amazed!!! When it comes to writing, I am pretty much a loner and one-woman show (no crit group or brainstorming help at the moment), so I don't mind telling you that I view your great working relationship with Darlene and Anna with more than a little bit of longing! And, holy cow, you had my heart pumping with brainstorming ... I can only imagine how the published version of this story would race my pulse!

    I only brainstormed twice in the past with friends at a luncheon, and we did come up with some cool ideas (i.d. Brady being a twin in A Passion Denied), so I know I need to do more of that, especially after reading your 60-minute version. Talk about riveting!! :)


  11. Thanks, Ruthy, for bringing all those yummy dishes!!! More calories, more pounds! What the hey! :)

    You mentioned Vince's comment about the pilot not being experienced, which works so well. We all remember the JFK Jr. crash. So tragic.

    Donald Maass, at RWA this year, talked about readers being savvy and having a large storehouse of info they can draw from, such as the JFK Jr. crash. By just mentioning his name, we immediately recall what happened. Our readers will relate to the heartbreak of that fateful day, which can serve to increase their involvement in the current crash story. Make sense or clear as mud? Can you tell, I'm not Maass?

  12. Hi Julie,
    Steeple Hill author Terri Reed wrote and told me she and her group brainstorm the same way Darlene, Anna and I do. A number of Georgia Romance Writers do as well.

    But I also remember Susan Elizabeth Phillips saying she doesn't involve her critique group until her story's written, so it works both ways.

    Do you ever bounce ideas off your hubby? That's brainstorming. My hubby helps me all the time. We'll sit over lunch and chew on the plot as well as our sandwiches. My youngest daughter adds her two cents as well. Guess it proves I need lots of help and will accept it from anyone and everyone! :)

  13. Debby, you are blessed to have these great critique partners and be able to get together and brainstorm. It's so much fun.

    In person, by phone, on instant message, so many possibilities.

    It really gets the creative juices flowing! Thanks for a reminder!

    I would love to be in the running for your book but I've won things in the past. What is the Seeker rule for eligibility?


  14. Hi Debra,
    Love your photo and your little one! No rules about winning. Leave your email to be entered!

  15. Debby, I loved joining your brainstorming session! You gave great reminders on handling all the elements of the story. Vince, your input is awesome, especially your suggestion that the wife pushed the hero to fly.

    I brainstorm plots with my critique partner and talk them over with my husband on our walks. Sometimes just having someone listen triggers possibilities in my mind.

    The buffet is huge today! Thanks for all the great food, Debby and Ruthy. I had to try a little of everything. :-)


  16. While I was enjoying some of the goodies Ruthy brought this morning for breakfast, I thought about the importance of continually working to make a story better. The manuscript is never finished until it's on the way to the editor's office.

    When I started writing, I thought I had to come up with ALL the ideas, without help from anyone else, and then stick to that plot until the book was written. Silly me! Didn't take long to realize writing is a fluid process -- it keeps changing like the tides. Add to the story, take something away.

    Tolstoy was making changes to WAR AND PEACE on the way to the printers. He'd written and rewritten the story eight times -- and that was before typewriters or computers.

    Wonder if he liked to brainstorm?

  17. I did just a bit of this last night with my two friends that I've been doing conference calls with. I told them that my new hero is an orphan who was rescued from an abusive situation by the two bachelor brothers who raised him. He loves them and feels a lot of gratitude to them, so why doesn't he help them with their business when he grows up? Why does he become a private investigator instead?

    My wonderful writer-friends said, "Because he doesn't know who his parents are." "He saw something when he was little, a parent who was taken away." "He needs to know what happened to his parents." "He wants to help people who are searching for answers."

    And that was my answer. Because of his past, he wants to help other people find the answers to their questions, because he knows how it feels to wonder what happened and to need answers.

    What a feeling of peace and joy floods my soul when the pieces fall into place. :-)

  18. Debby, can you believe it's less than a month till the conference!!??! I'm not ready. But I will be.

  19. Oh, I loved this!!! I just formed a brainstorming group with three other girls and sent them your brainstorming blogs to read. I loved how you had a set time and made sure the essential components of the novel were covered. Once the novel is plotted, the rest is gravy. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Janet,
    Thanks for stopping by. Loved your comment about chatting with your hubby as you walk. My hubby and I try to walk daily and often my thoughts are on the current WIP. I agree, it's a great time to discuss the story.

    You made an excellent point about needing to talk about the book. Often we can fix the problems when we tell someone else about the story. Suddenly, we see the holes and know how to fill them.

  21. Melanie,
    Sounds like you have a great group! You threw out the problem and the ideas started to flow. Love what you all came up with. You've got a strong conflict for your hero. Since I write suspense, I'd have him remember seeing someone shot. Could it have been his dad? He wants to learn what happened and whether his biological father was killed. Then he needs to find the killer.

  22. Melanie,
    A month until ACFW!!! Can't wait!!! This year's conference will be fantastic!

  23. Hi Lisa,
    Good for you starting a brainstorming group. Bet you'll love it! Anna, Darlene and I always end our sessions feeling enthused to get back to our own stories. It's like a sugar high! All that creative energy gets unleashed.

    Keep us posted on your group and the great ideas you come up with!!!

  24. Mornin' Debby!

    I love your technique! Brainstorming is such a positive element in creating a story.

    Darlene and Anna added to the session with great suggestions. A couple of trusted friends who understand where your story needs to go are priceless.

    Your roadmap is viable and exciting. I can't wait to try this technique. You started my imagination firing for your story through a few sentences and word play.

    I love it!

    Thanks for sharing!!

  25. I love this, Debby! I've always wanted to participate in a regular brainstorming group. I've joined in a few spur-of-the-moment sessions at writers group meetings, but I don't think it's as effective for intensive plotting unless you already have a strong connection and respect for the other writers.

  26. Debby and Anna and Darlene, thank you for letting us eavesdrop on your brainstorming session!! How fun.

    Debby and I did this while at a hotel room in Alabama (for a reader's luncheon event), and we had so much fun. Of course, Debby is always wanting to throw in dead bodies and diseases! :)


  27. Excellent! I loved reading about your process.

    Hugs all,

  28. Thank you, Ruthy. Yes, I think you need to send me a case of hazelnut biscotti creamer since you've been picking on me like crazy lately, especially over my character names!!


  29. I really enjoyed reading about this. I've done occasional brainstorming with my son. I'm in my forties (ahem!) and he's in his twenties, so we get great ideas from both age groups, plus covering male and female perspectives.

    I can't wait until conference either!

  30. Wow! I can't believe all you accomplished in an hour.

    Brainstorming sometimes works for me, and sometimes doesn't. I'm best at brainstorming if I don't have any clear idea of what I want to do with a story. If I have it kind of mapped out in my head, then have a brainstorming session, it often feels as if I've lost control of the story, that I can't get it back to the way I thought it should go.

    Must be my control-freak tendencies!

    I've thrown out an idea at a writer's group before and had people grab it up and run all over with it until I didn't recognize the original idea...I guess I'm gunshy of that happening again.

    Yup, control-freak.

  31. Thanks for the inside scoop on brainstorming. Even if we do this solo, it's so important to keep the focus on internal and external conflicts.

    The resulting storyline sounds intriguing. And so does your May release. Enter me in the drawing.


  32. That was awesome, my husband is a truck driver so I bounce ideas off my chihuahua or my Mom!!! Milissa


  33. PS What are red herrings referring to? Not the first time I have heard this would someone explain! Thanks Milissa

  34. Hi Debby:

    When you wrote:

    “Our readers will relate to the heartbreak of that fateful day, (JFK,Jr. crash) which can serve to increase their involvement in the current crash story. Make sense or clear as mud?”

    It makes perfect sense.

    Just look at “Law and Order” one of the most successful TV shows ever. The producers brag about stories being “ripped from the headlines”. Viewers relate better to stories which are familiar, and they also have the hope that the outcomes may be different – especially when justice didn’t prevail the first time. (Wouldn’t it be great to see the fictional OJ get convicted?)

    It just amazes me how fast the writers can get a script written. I bet the writing team can write a script in a week. But I think they have it easier. The editor comes in and says “here’s what really happened, fictionalize it.”

    Why not take advantage of these things?


  35. Wow, that was a great example of brainstorming. Nice! Thanks for that.

    sheriboeyink [at] cox [dot] net

  36. Hi Melanie:

    As I was reading your post it hit me like a flash:

    The hero killed his own parents with a little gun that looked like his own cap gun. (The noise of the shots did not surprise him.) Having no relatives he was swept away and this event was covered up so he would never learn of it. His investigation seems to indicate that the heroine’s father was the killer. What happens when he finds out he is the killer? What happens when he recalls all the times he said he could never forgive the killer? This would have to be an inspirational and feature redemption. This would be very hard to write. Way above my pay grade. But it’s just another idea.

    Ideas lead to more ideas.


  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

  38. Hi Ruth:

    “SIGH... What we do to these poor innocent, fictional people, LOL!”

    This is almost like the Twilight Zone!

    I am currently, this morning, 19 AUG 09, writing a scene in my WIP, “Characters in a Romance” in which my characters are sitting around complaining about authors. They especially don’t like ‘black moments’ as they think they are unnecessary.

    First draft:

    “I say it’s possible to write a perfectly good story without a black moment.”

    “Darn right! We get tortured and have to go through hell just so some fan can have a more exciting reading experience.”

    “You’re right. The author gets paid. The reader is happy. But what do we get? I tell you it’s immoral to play with our lives the way these authors do.”

    “But if it wasn’t for authors, you wouldn’t exist.”

    “So that makes it better? If I created a mouse would that give me the right to torture it?”

    “You forget, the mouse gets a HEA.”

    “Will you guys knock it off? I stopped believing in authors years ago.”


    This is a double mylanta!!

    Ruth, I think I am going to have to include this post in the book! Can I use your quote?


  39. i LOVE this Debbie, Very fun to see the process.

    How about, instead of the mil sabotaging the plane, could the mil have a man in her life, trying to win her love. Or a shady son, or a troubled step son. He might do it. Not sure a usual mil would have the skills to sabotage a plane. Although I think I know a way. Email me.

    And if she did have mechanical skills, that would be known and she'd be a suspect pretty quickly maybe.

    I LOVE brainstorming. It's so invigorating.

  40. Hi Audra,
    Glad our little brainstorming session helped open you to new ideas. That's the beauty of brainstorming ... even when working on someone else's story, everyone benefits. I find the process energizing.

    BTW, the story idea we came up with was just for fun. As far as I know, no one plans to use it in a book.

    As a writing exercise, my critique groups plans to keep brainstorming random ideas to see where the process takes us. The more we "what if," the more we learn to think outside the box.

  41. Hi Myra,
    It does help to have a working relationship with the other folks in a brainstorming group. Although, as we've sometimes seen in conference workshops on brainstorming, strangers can come together and work well together.

    What struck me this time was the importance of getting the conflict right. Initially we said the heroine was a doctor and then a physical therapist. Yet in both those roles, there was nothing keeping the hero and heroine apart. Once she became the small town sheriff, we had conflict.

  42. Loved your example of brainstorming. I've only done this a few times with my critique partners and it was for only portions of a WIP in procees. It would be fun to start something fomr the beginning and see where it goes.

  43. Hey Missy!

    Our Huntsville brainstorming was fun! Thanks for all your help Saturday too.

    Missy has a master's in microbiology so I like to tell her about my ideas involving deadly organisms to ensure I've got my facts right. :)

  44. Hi Cheryl,
    Hope you're getting lots of writing done!!

    Cheryl's working on a new story. I know it'll be great!

  45. Jill,
    Aren't you smart to brainstorm with your son! That male POV is so important.

    I love getting ideas from the guys in my life. My hubby's great with guns, and my son, currently in the Army, has done mock fights and take downs with me so I could get them right in my stories.

    ACFW? We need a common rendezvous site so all Seekers and Seeker friends can gather for a giant hug in!

  46. Erica,
    Thanks for bringing up a negative to the technique. You're right. Sometimes folks get carried away and take the story in the direction you don't want. I've had that happen but never with Darlene and Anna.

    The important thing is to establish what aspect you want to brainstorm and then reel them back when they get out of line. Of course, that's sometimes hard to do. Maybe call a time out and say it's gotten too far offtrack.

    The story has to be our own. We need to feel strongly about what we write. Brainstorming provides ideas. Often those presented at a session will be changed, yet again, when the actual writing occurs. But with each change, the story should become stronger.

  47. Hi Candee,
    You're entered in the drawing. Good luck!

    You mentioned the importance of internal and external conflict. When I judge contest submissions, I often find the conflict isn't strong enough. With my own writing, I focus on the conflict before I work on the plot.

  48. Hi Melissa,
    I've got you in the drawing!

    Red herrings are woven into a story to throw suspicion on someone other than the villain. You don't want your reader to identify the bad guy or gal early on. So you add other characters that seem to have a dark side into the plot. Sometimes a number of characters could be the villain, which keeps the readers guessing. When they're trying to figure out the "who done it," they're turning pages and are engrossed in the story. That's what we all want.

  49. Great to see you back, Vince.

    Loved your comments today!

    Bob Mayer says never reinvent the wheel. If something's been done or written, study how it worked and then come up with your own version. Drawing on current events works as well, although reality is sometimes stranger than fiction, and the editors may call the idea too bizarre. That's when it's good to have a news article to run by them to defend your stance.

    "Yes, a pack of dogs can run wild in Georgia and kill two people," you'll tell her to prove a plot point you want to use in your WIP.

    BTW, did you all see the news about the deadly pack of dogs? Amazing, scary, and something I plan to use in a future book.

  50. Thanks for stopping by, Lynn. You're in the drawing.

  51. Vince, in reference to Melanie's story, what if the boy THOUGHT he killed his dad? He's lived with that guilt. In trying to determine what happened on that fateful day/night, he learns the truth. Someone else killed dad. Who did it? The mother? A business partner? The man who eventually adopted him?

  52. Vince,
    Love your character dialogue!!! Reminds me of a Writer's Digest book I read entitled, DIALOGUE. The writer chats with a character throughout the book and in doing so provides examples for the points he's trying to make.

    Good job, Vince! Consider submitting your idea to Writer's Digest.

  53. Hi Mary,
    Yes, I like the MIL having a son or stepson.

    I did wonder how she would have the ability to cause the plane to crash.

    Thought she might try to research info on the Internet, using the hero's computer and his email addy, which would bring more suspicion to him.

    But then, wouldn't he see the email?

    Okay, she'd have to delete everything before he could read it.

    How could she do that?

    YIKES! Now I'm brainstorming with myself!

  54. Great, motivating essay. I used to get my students in writing lab to use brainstorming. I would love to do it now with someone. Need to find a writing partner in my local area first!!

  55. What if the MIL served in the military in her youth? She knows planes, might even fly them.

    Has she kept that info from her daughter and son-in-law? If so, why?

    Now I can't stop. Anyone want to chime in?

  56. Hi Amy,
    Try brainstorming a fresh story as a writing exercise. Then if someone wants to use the ideas they can.

    Might be fun to have everyone write the beginning of the story you've brainstormed. They'd all be different.

    Hmmmm? I need to email Darlene and Anna about doing just that.

  57. Bookie, tell us about your writing lab, please. Sounds interesting!

  58. Debby, this is very cool! Wish I could've joined you guys. If you ever need a fourth brainstormer, give me a call, would you? LOL :) Seriously, it's very interesting to see how other do the brainstorming thing. Thanks for sharing.

  59. Hi Lynette,
    Thanks for stopping in at Seekerville. Glad to have you here. Yes, I'd love to brainstorm with you sometime! Maybe at M&M! :)

  60. Thanks Debby for ansering my question about Red Herrings been looking for that answer for awhile!! Milissa

  61. I really liked this post. Wish I had people in my life that I could brainstorm with like that!

  62. Your comments about internal conflict are a reminder that this element of a story may provide insight into a character's mind and heart in a manner not otherwise possible. Such is the case in a very different sort of book than the one "brainstormed"; I refer to my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay, bipolar man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for stability and acceptance (of himself and by others, including fellow Mormons). More information on the book is available at

    Mark Zamen, author