Thursday, October 24, 2013

What I learned about brainstorming since leaving the island

In those blissful (?) days on Unpubbed Island, life was a lot simpler. I had no deadlines. No editors breathing down my neck waiting for the next book. I could write what I wanted to, when I wanted to.

And the crazy thing is, in those days I never seemed to lack for story ideas. They were banging at the door of my brain begging to be written!

Then the first contracts came. Oh, happy day!

But one of the editors said, “We need two more books for the series.” Fortunately, I had a couple of partially written books on the computer that could easily be tailored to fit. Problem solved!

Then my dream agent signed me, and I got busy on a new proposal. I sent it to her, and she said, “Let’s turn this into a series.” Nothing languishing on my computer fit the bill, so time to brainstorm. Not too hard. In a matter of days, I whipped up a couple of paragraphs each for two more books.

Got those books sold, written, and into the publishing pipeline, and then on to my next project.

Guess what. I was asked to turn my idea for a single-title historical romance into a series. (Maybe I should have titled this post “Brainstorming a series.”)

But whether you're writing single titles or series, once the contracts start coming, the pressure is on to keep producing. Which means continually coming up with new story ideas. If you’re one of those writers whose well of inspiration never runs dry, yay for you!

But even if you have no shortage of ideas, eventually you have to turn those ideas into


Which means you need to brainstorm.

Some writers get together regularly for brainstorming sessions, each one taking a turn at throwing out the basic premise and then rapidly taking notes while everyone contributes ideas about how the characters and story might unfold. Each writer goes home with a good start on the next book.

Writers who brainstorm on their own use various methods, but my favorite has come to be The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit, a book and set of fifty cards put together by Pam McCutcheon and Michael Waite.

The first section of the book explains the process--instruction and examples of how use the brainstorming cards to create characters and develop your plot. The rest of the book covers the unique words that appear on each of the fifty cards, such as Desire, Inheritance, Pride, and Unknown.

For each of the words, the book includes a two-page spread with specific idea starters that connect with that word in some way, and they’re divided into subcategories that relate to either characterization or plotting.

For creating a character, you shuffle the cards and then select seven cards at random. Then, laying them out in the order they were drawn, you’ll begin to build your character.

Card #1: Role/Pursuit
Card #2: Trait

Card #3: Goal

Card #4: Motivation

Card #5: Internal Conflict

Card #6: External Conflict
Card #7: Growth/Realization

Here’s my early brainstorming worksheet for Annemarie Kendall, the heroine of When the Clouds Roll By, book one of my historical romance series for Abingdon Press. One word or phrase can spin your thoughts in many different directions, so two writers using the same set of cards will come up with completely different characters.

    Role/Pursuit: Judgment—oversees pottery production in her family business

    Trait: Burden—sees herself as the one who must be dependable

    Goal: Heartbreak—to refrain from hurting the man she expected to marry, who has recently returned from the Great War (WWI) and is damaged physically and emotionally

    Motivation: Change—because she always does what is expected of her and believes she must carry on no matter what her heart may want

    Internal Conflict: Dreams—believes her dream of marrying for love is impractical and unattainable

    External Conflict: Ego—her fiancĂ© has become depressed, angry, and verbally abusive, and she begins to see that marriage to him would be intolerable

    Growth/Realization: Communication—“confession is good for the soul,” admitting and standing up for her own needs is not wrong

Of course, as the story evolved, so did Annemarie’s characterization, and some of these aspects turned out differently in the book. Even so, using the cards gave me a foundation for developing Annemarie into a three-dimensional character. Try this system for each of your major characters, and your story planning will be well on its way.

Next, you can use the cards to brainstorm plot. This time you select five cards at random and lay them out in the order drawn.
Card #1: Ordinary World 
Card #2: Trigger Event 
Card #3: Change of Plans
Card #4: Black Moment
Card #5: Resolution
As with characterization, the book takes each word and gives you several jumping-off points related to each plot section. Your own imagination takes it from there.

Sharing my detailed plotting notes for When the Clouds Roll By would be too revealing for anyone who hasn’t read the book, so instead I’ll use my latest work-in-progress as an example since it’s still in the early stages of development. As you can see, each word chosen allows plenty of freedom to take your story in whatever direction works best.

    The Ordinary World: Time. For the hero, time is crucial. He thinks he's wasting time by making this trip. For the heroine, time is her friend. The farther she gets from her past, the better she believes her life will be.

    Trigger Event: Giving. Hero is giving up something precious to him--his time. Heroine is afraid someone will give her away and the past will catch up.

    Change of Plans: Animals. Hunting accident?

    Black Moment: Change. The right decision will change their lives forever. Stay or go? Help or forget?

Resolution: Innocence. Protecting the innocent brings satisfaction. Working together to make a difference and turning their backs on their old lives.

I’ve used The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit several times now. It’s always fun and exciting to see which cards turn up and discover where each word takes my thought processes. What’s also interesting is that many times the words directly relate to vague ideas I was already mulling over. So the system just helps me flesh them out and think in new directions.

Important to remember, though, is that any brainstorming system is merely a tool. If the ideas aren’t jelling, try a different process or go at the story from another angle. Bottom line: trust your instincts and write the story that comes from your heart.

Let’s talk! What are your favorite or most successful brainstorming techniques? If you’d like to be entered in a drawing for your own copy of The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit, please mention your interest in a comment.



Helen Gray said...

There's fresh coffee and hot tea. Help yourselves.

Thanks for the tips, Myra.

This sounds like a helpful tool that would benefit me. Toss my name in the drawing, please.

Marianne Barkman said...

Thanks, Helen, much appreciated. Interesting look into a writer's Selena. Love series, tho

Melissa Jagears said...

How timely Myra. I know that Natasha's going to say "make this a series" so I'm already working on that but I have this big well of ideas for stand alones. But I'm noticing how readers REALLY want interconnected characters so they can see how "they turned out" and so I sat and stared at all my ideas trying to figure out how I could make them connect before even writing the story and knowing who the secondary characters are!!

I've gotten two series to connect now and it was pure "boys in the basement" flashes of inspiration. I swear one night I sat and thought for like 4 hours and got nothing, and then as soon as I gave up and put my head on the pillow, there it was! Should've just gone to bed MUCH earlier!!

Jenny Blake said...

This applies for other areas also. in business studies we talked about brainstorming in a few subjects like group projects and the different ways to do it.
I guess I hadn't really thought about it as much for writing or I have but right now I dont recall. I know I recall people saying we had a brainstorming session but I didn't really think about it and why.

I have found peppermint oil calms me! doesn't take about the pain as such but calms me so I can handle it (will know more when the level increases but i'm at least coping with level 4 pain now and not crying like I was with it earlier.) funny I dont mind the smell but dont really like to eat it unless its really mild and I mean really mild

Clari Dees said...

Oh, Wow!
I had never heard of The Writer's Brainstorming Kit before. It looks like it would be a lot of fun. Would you put my name in the hat, pretty please? Thank you. :-)

tammy ramey said...

i would love to have a copy of the book! i usually do something similar,
i write down a bunch of words like:plot, motivation,hero, etc. and throw them in a hat. then when i draw the card i try and make a spread sheet for that particular character and all of their characteristics on a big piece of butcher paper i have hanging on the wall. that way as i am writing i can refer back to the wall at anytime.

Tammy Ramey

Jackie said...

Thanks for these great tips! I'd love to have my name entered in the drawing.


Joanne Hill said...

I love the sound of this, please add me to the draw.
Shirley Jump has a brain map technique - she was at our New Zealand conference in August and was so inspiring. Lyn Cote's Conflict Grid class I took a few years back really got the braincells going too. I think the more you learn the better.

Cindy W. said...

Thank you for this post Myra. I would LOVE to be entered to winThe Writer's Brainstorming Kit. Since I don't have anyone close by that I can really bounce ideas off of this would be a great tool for me.

Have a wonderful day everyone!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra, I've never heard of this so it's fascinating to see!

My characters fight in my head for who does what... and if I try to direct the story, I fail. And because my brain works on a scientific action/reaction sequence, I don't try to force the inspiration. If I do, I end up not liking the result.

Like Melissa said, glimpses of inspiration come to me at odd moments and I make people write them down if I can't. And if that glimpse means going way back in the book to re-do something (and the consequential fixes) I do it because I love the depth of layering.

Sometimes I brainstorm with Seekers, but if I have a story idea that I'm not sure of, I run it by Melissa first. If it doesn't fly with her, then I've saved myself a boatload of time and it can go on future prospect list.

But mostly my brainstorming is through quirks of inspiration that are Holy Spirit guided. I truly believe that. Sometimes it's a gentle nudge, but not too long ago I had a wake-up call that was more like a Gibbs-smack about an award-winning book I love that I wrote years ago and I TOTALLY SAW MY MISTAKE... And now I'll go back and fix it when I have time and market that beautiful story, but how bad would it have been to market it too early?????

But I didn't because something kept niggling me that it wasn't quite right.

Gotta love that God! And don't you think it's way cool that we have so many different ways of getting the job done?????

Ann Stewart said...

I would love a copy if the brainstorming kit. I'm working on a plot for a nano book now and my biggest issues is creating a detail about a character or the plot and then second guessing it to death! Maybe this tool would help. :)

Great blog post. Thanks for the information.

Annie Rains said...

I would love to be entered in the drawing for a Brainstorming Kit :)

I have a small critique group that I met in my local RWA group. We meet regularly, just like you said, and do brainstorming sessions for our books. We've even had sessions through Google chat since there is an hour or 2 distance between us all. That works, too. Other people's brains work so differently that sometimes my idea will go in new and exciting directions that I never would've considered without my group.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Love brainstorming but sometimes is IS like hairpulling! Sounds like a great prize. Put me in.

But I'm also blessed to have folks I can brainstorm with. Like Piper who helped me last night in fact.

Oh, and it's Piper's birthday today so folks need to give her a shout out.

Peace, Julie

Rose said...


Thanks for the tips. I've been 'brainstorming' a book series for a month now. I have a good handle on two of the books, sadly, the plot for the other two are just not coming together.

Toss my name in the hat (or cat dish). This may be the tool I need.

Sherri Shackelford said...

I would definitely be interested in owning a copy of the brainstorming kit. A member of my critique group has one and it's a really fun way to get ideas flowing.

Your book sounds marvelous! I'm always writing with a series in mind. I like to hint around with the characters..

kaybee said...

Happy birthday, Piper.
Thank you, Myra. Please enter me in the drawing.
Melissa, I get some of my best stuff when my head is about to hit the pillow. Note pad on nightstand has saved many a day.
I'm stuck on one of the villains for my NANO story. I know he's a mobster fighting against my OTHER villain for control of the speakeasies in New York's Bowery in the early 20s, but I can't "see" him yet. It will come. Love the idea of the kit, we need every tool we can come up with, and don't let anyone tell us it's "not creative." What Ever Works.
I tend to think in series, so it's natural for me, but I know there's going to come a time -- probably after I'm published -- when I'm stuck.
Kathy Bailey

kaybee said...

I like Ruthy's description of "characters fighting in my head." That's what they should be doing, if we've developed them enough. Which I haven't done with my mobster, sigh. But I've got a pretty good handle on the other villain.

Susan Codone said...

I would like to be in the drawing for the book drawing! I've studied brainstorming but never actually thought about applying it to fiction. I guess I've always assumed that successful writers were just brimming over with great ideas waiting to be written down. Thanks for the explanation of the brainstorming card technique!

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice said...

I could use a copy of that book. For some reason, I often come up with my best ideas while in the shower. Don't know if it's the pale walls, sound of water, or what. But there's also no pen, no paper, and I forget half of what I come up with. Bike rides work well for me, too. I've learned to travel with pen and paper in my bike basket, and allow myself to pull over whenever the muse strikes.

Cindy Regnier said...

Interesting post. I have never heard of the Writer's Brainstorming Kit but would like to give it a try. Please enter me. My best brainstorming happens while I'm asleep. Some of my dreams have made great story lines. Thanks Myra. Great post and keep up the writing for all of us who love your books! (especially the series)

Jeanne T said...

This is an interesting post. I've never heard of this book/kit before! It's fun to hear how it worked for your books, Myra. I don't tend to be strong in the brainstorming department. I think I need this book. :) Please put me in the drawing.

I find my best way of brainstorming is talking with friends who are good at it. Once the ideas begin flying, my mind seems to engage better.

Cara Lynn James said...

Myra, the Brainstorming Kit sounds like a great idea! I've brainstormed with writer friends but I'm not very good at it. Maybe I'm just a slow thinker and need to mull a story over for a long time.

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, WOW, Myra ... I never heard about the Writer's Brainstorming Kit, but what a COOL TOOL!!!

I'm a little lax in the brainstorming department, I think, which means I don't actually brainstorm with anyone else except Keith. Usually I just get on the treadmill and plot twists tend to come!! So much so, that when I've been stumped at times and blue about it, Keith always tells me to go downstairs and work out on the treadmill!! :)

But I can see that actual brainstorming with others (or with a kit like this) is SO important because I notice a lot of my plots tend to run the same way. Which ... is not a good thing if you're hoping to inject an element of surprise in your stories, which I always try to do. So input from others (or this kit) would definitely help change that.

I do, however, always brainstorm with a couple of friends when I hit a snag in the plotting and am always amazed at what they come up with. :) This happened at least twice -- once in APMP when my brainstorming friend literally SAVED the book and another time in A Passion Denied, when another friend joked about wouldn't it be fun if Brady were a twin ... ;)

LOL ... I went over to Amazon to check on it after seeing the steep price on the link you gave ($24.95) and guess what?? It's $989.81 new and $475 used there, so you got yourself a heck of a deal!! ;)


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kaybee, I'm laughing because it's true!!! That's what it feels like as they sort out who should do what and bits and pieces of Sunday liturgies and old songs and new babies plant themselves in the melee. It's funny, but I think it's the "in your head" writing process that Virginia talks so eloquently about.

(Do you think she'll notice that compliment????) :)

So when I get to that particular story, I'm ready to rock and roll.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Happy birthday Piper!!!!!

I'm thinkin' bittersweet is the flavor of your day, darlin' girl. Praying for you and wishing you God's heartiest blessings... the kind saved for just such a mixed emotion occasion.

Hugging you!

Joanne Sher said...

Okay - maybe this is a copout, but my most effective brainstorming strategy is "sleeping on it" - then texting it to my bff Peejers in the morning. We'll often "chat it out" in texts or emails. Something about sleep and letting my unconscious mind go is the best way to get an idea started - and sharing it with another writer is the best way to keep it going - at least for me!

That said, I'd LOVE the brainstorming kit. (and the Ipad Mini - but I'm sure you guessed that! LOL). Thanks, Myra!

Elaine Manders said...

Hi Myra

You always have such interesting tips. I can see where this would help a lot of writers, but don't think it would work for me. So far my characters come prepackaged with their own backgrounds, emotions, characteristics and they want to tell their own story. I've tried forcing the issue and it doesn't work. Maybe I'm a little like Ruthy in that its inspiration from the Spirit. Of course putting that down on paper is another matter and I don't know what I'll do if publishers want a certain thing.

Happy Birthday, Piper. I've baked a seven-layer fudge cake that's big enough for everyone. Don't know if you like chocolate, but I do, Ha.

Linda Finn said...

Grabs a cup of coffee with vanilla creamer and sits down next to Julie Lessman... Good Morning Jules... I had to just laugh at this tool but hey you use what works for you and I am game ! I have to say that for me life is my tool and I am right now not lacking for Stories or ideas, but someday when I get writers block I wil be thankful for a picking cards way to do this... Pick a card any card ! I would love to win the book and give it a shot at giving me ideas .... Jules, I was having a lovely chat with Sarah Ladd this morning would be believe I have her and a sweet new author Kimberely Rose Johnson inked in for end of this year and middle of next year ! Thank you Julie for singing my praises... Your one in a million and I am so loving this hunt.
Linda Finn
Faithful Acres Books

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville! HELEN, you are our early bird as usual--thanks for the coffee and tea! I need some to give me a jump start this morning. It's c-o-o-o-o-ld here today!!!

Myra Johnson said...

MELISSA, yes, Natasha is really good at nudging for series ideas! It is fun creating interconnected stories, though, and figuring out what happens to favorite characters in subsequent books.

And it's true--sometimes we think too hard, when we just need to let our brains relax and do their thing. Glad you found the inspiration you needed!

Myra Johnson said...

JENNY, I have heard that peppermint oil can be calming. I may seriously need to try it. I also like lavender and have some pillow spray I use from time to time.

CLARI, you're in the hat for the brainstorming kit! I am really giving it a workout lately. I don't always get concrete plot or character ideas from the process, but it's generally enough to unstick my brain and point me in more promising directions.

Myra Johnson said...

TAMMY, sounds like you already have a pretty good start on a brainstorming system! Happy to add your name to the cat dish.

JACKIE, you're in, too!

JOANNE, I bet Shirley Jump was a great brainstorming instructor! I think it's good to try different methods and see which one works best for you. And it might be a different one depending on the particular project.

Connie Queen said...

I have lots of ideas on stories and I think I could work many into a series.

If I ever get published, the well may dry up or I'll realize none of my ideas fit the series and have to start from scratch.

I'm prone to the inciting incident getting the creative juices flowing. The problem I have w/this is there's not necessarily a goal/motivation/conflict so I have to find those.

Love how readers want to see secondary character's stories.

Myra Johnson said...

CINDY, that's what I love about this system. You can do it all by yourself when there's no one else to brainstorm with.

RUTHY, your well of ideas never seems to run dry! And you pointed out another reason I like the Brainstorming Kit. It doesn't force anything on you. When you're stuck, it just gives your thought processes a little nudge by suggesting possible ways the story or character could develop.

Myra Johnson said...

ANN, I can see how this kit could give your NANO book a huge kick-start! And I do understand about the second-guessing thing. I do it all too often!

ANNIE, so true--by ourselves, we can get in a brainstorming rut. Other people can see our stories and characters in ways we never would have imagined.

Myra Johnson said...

JULIE H.S., hairpulling is a good term for what it feels like sometimes to figure out a character or plot point.

And thanks for the heads-up about PIPER's birthday!

Happy birthday, PIPER!!! Hope it's a great day!!!

Amber Schamel said...

That kit sounds awesome! I'll have to add it to my Christmas list. :)

Thanks for sharing, Myra. Your book looks very interesting.

Myra Johnson said...

ROSE, happy to toss your name in the cat dish! (I'm borrowing it from Patti Jo since we don't currently have a cat, but I don't think she'll mind.)

SHERRI, you're in, too. I think it would be so fun to brainstorm with a group, and sometimes the Seekers do help each other out. But normally I hammer out my stories on my own unless I get really stuck. Nice to have backup when you need it!

Myra Johnson said...

KAYBEE, your mobster story sounds fun! Well, not fun. I mean mobsters are NOT fun. But exciting, for sure!

SUSAN C., I know there are writers out there who never seem to run out of ideas. And the truth is, I have lots of ideas, but most of them need a LOT of fleshing out. The Brainstorming Kit is a good way to take the germ of an idea and see where it leads you.

Myra Johnson said...

KERRY ANN, I am good at "losing" good ideas, too. I am always so certain the thought is strong enough that I couldn't possibly forget it, but unless I capture it right away on paper or computer, pretty soon it fades away.

CINDY R., I have gotten almost fully fleshed out story ideas from my dreams. I love it when that happens! Thanks for the sweet words about my books, too!

Glynna Kaye said...

Fun way to plot, Myra! I bought that book and the cards years ago, but never really figured out how to use it effectively. I should give it another try--I know where the book is, now I just have to locate the cards... (Easier said than done!)

Myra Johnson said...

JEANNE T., one good thing about bouncing ideas off friends is they will usually be pretty honest with you if they think an idea won't fly. Or at least won't hack it in a particular market or genre.

CARA, I mull a lot, too. I need the story and characters to come so alive in my mind that I can't NOT sit down to write about them.

Myra Johnson said...

JULIE, I know what you mean about how we can get stuck writing the "same" book over and over. I have noticed that tendency in my own plotting.

However, I have never, ever, ever been compelled to get on the treadmill to work out an idea. Sweat??? Perish the thought!

And can you believe the prices on Amazon for this kit??? I looked, too, and I was stunned!

Myra Johnson said...

JOANNE S., sleeping on it does seem to work wonders at times. Glad you have some good friends to bounce ideas off, too!

ELAINE, I am definitely not into forcing my characters into molds, which is one reason this kit appeals to me. It suggests rather than tells, just enough to get me thinking in new directions.

LINDA F., thanks for sharing your thoughts this morning. Yes, we use whatever works for us. And for me, it can change from day to day.

DebH said...

hi Myra
i've never really thought beyond the first book sale (since i'm way too far from even that right now) - but wow, what a "lightbulb" moment. your editor is always going to want your next best idea. this is both wonderful (your editor WANTS more) and scary (holy cow! your editor wants MORE!)

i've never really had much problem with the idea well, but for brain storming i like to hit a couple of online sites that have plot/name/setting generators. (seventhSanctum is one) it helps jump start the ol' imagination God's provided me *heh*

Please put me in the drawing for your giveaway. Thanks for sharing your process and introducing yet another cool "tool" for my crafting "toolbox".

PiperHappy Birthday! October is a good birth month (my bday is next tues) kinda cool we share that.

Myra Johnson said...

CONNIE Q., it definitely can be hard coming up with the right GMC for the story. Sometimes what I start out with in my head is not how the story turns out. Those characters have a way of running things their way no matter what I initially had in mind.

AMBER, glad you stopped by today! Wouldn't it be fun to find the Brainstorming Kit under your Christmas tree?

GLYNNA, I keep my book and cards near my computer at all times. I don't use them for every book, but lately they've been seeing a lot of action. I think it's because my brain is tired from coming up with two 3-book series in the past few years.

Myra Johnson said...

DEB H, you've hit on one of the really scary parts of getting that first book contract--the need for the NEXT book idea!!!

One thing we've stressed here in Seekerville over the years is the importance of INVENTORY. If you're continuing to produce while waiting on that first sale, you'll have manuscripts (or at least proposals) all ready to go when your editor says, "What else do you have?"

Meghan Carver said...

How fun to have your stand-alone ideas turns into series, Myra! So far, I've only brainstormed with my teen and tween. They have some good ideas because they don't know all the "rules" of writing, and they love being involved in the process. The kit looks terrific. Please enter me in the drawing. Thank you!

Hallee Bridgeman said...

I love the idea of having a kit to help brainstorm! That's awesome.

Your cover for your new historical, by the way, is absolutely beautiful. It makes me want to pick the book up and turn it over to see what it's about.


Mary Connealy said...

Why, when we talk about brainstorming, do I always feel lightning strike deep in my brain?

It kinda hurts.

Myra Johnson said...

MEGHAN, I bet it's fun brainstorming with your kids--must try that sometime! Mine are, um, at least a couple of decades older than yours, and I'd have to do it over the phone or via email for now. But I bet they'd have some great suggestions!

HALLEE, I'm glad you like my book cover. I've never had a cover receive so many compliments! Hoping readers will think the story lives up to what they see on the front of the book!

Courtney Phillips said...

I haven't given much thought to anything beyond publishing ONE book. One goal at a time. . .but brainstorming is something I've definitely done a lot of lately. And I could always use help, so count me in for the drawing, please.

Myra Johnson said...

MARY, is that a good kind of lightning strike hurt . . . or a bad one?

Heidi said...

Those cards look like a fun way to make writing challenging! They would be great to use in a lesson plan for a class on writing. Thanks for sharing!

Mary Connealy said...

I've really been struggling through one section of my WIP right now, because my hero got hurt badly.

So there is so much going on.

He got his leg broken and that was everyone's focus. but now that we've solved that we find a second injury that's become infected and he's a tough guy so he didn't even complain about a little scratch (from a grizzly bear!) that's the one that might kill him.

So now he's feverish. And the heroine is doctoring him. Plus an Indian woman is helping. And everything is seen by him in and out of reality. So when I'm in his POV I've got to handle that in a feverish way.
And the heroine is tough but she's horrified.
And the Indian woman raised him and is as solid and wise as they come but she loves him and is NOT unaffected. We aren't in her POV but still I'm trying to show her strength but also her fear and love, all wrapped up in a woman who talks very little.

So I'll write the scene, a string of about three scenes so far, then be done, then I'll get on past it, then think of something, then go back and rework it, then get past it, then think of something else, then go back....

I don't think this would be different if I was a plotter or a panster. This just has to be worked out on paper. The brainstorming...or daydreamingn the scene or whatever you want to call part of my ... stormy brain I guess.

And making it all weave together in a story...and ultimately yes, it's a very important scene, important in that the heroine cares so much by the time it's over and the hero has to depend on her and how it reveals his mother's love...and yet it's not that MUCH of the book.

I'll quit writing this ridiculously long comment now....

Myra Johnson said...

COURTNEY, you're in! We all need brainstorming help from time to time. Nice to have some helpful methods to fall back on.

HEIDI, I can see how the brainstorming cards could be a lot of fun in a classroom setting!

MARY . . . I think you just wrote a book in a comment. You're right--you have a very, um, "stormy" brain.

Donna said...

Myra, The Writer's Brainstorming Kit sounds great! I can see how it could get the wheels turning. Please enter me.

Anyone else bummed that Amazons free shipping went from $25 to $35? I wonder if this will boost Kindle sales?

Happy Birthday Piper!

Jenny, I hope you feel better soon!

Donna said...

Mary> I can't wait to red your dialogue of a deliriously feverish man! doubt. : )

Myra Johnson said...

DONNA, this kit is definitely a way to get those wheels turning!

Haven't seen the news about Amazon raising its free shipping threshold. I shop a lot at, though, and noticed they did the same thing recently. Guess shipping is costing more than these companies can handle.

I'm an Amazon Prime member, though, which really, really helps! As much as I order online, I'm sure I have paid for my annual membership fee in saved shipping charges many times over.

Cheryl St.John said...

We use the brainstorming kit all the time in my critique group.

Myra Johnson said...

Fun, CHERYL! How does it work in a group setting? Are you meeting face-to-face?

Jan Drexler said...

Myra, this sounds like a great tool!

I tend to let ideas simmer instead of storm. When an idea just isn't gelling, I'll "put it on the back burner" and wait. Once a day or so, I'll take the lid off and give it a stir to see if anything is happening yet...waiting for that Holy Spirit directed stuff Ruthy was talking about.

But then the pot starts boiling at the most inconvenient times - like in the shower, or in the middle of a sermon :) And when it does, it's usually something worthwhile!

And I've gotten one of those emails..."what else do you have?" What fun!

Thanks for telling us about the Writer's Brainstorming Kit - I'll have to look for it.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow. Love this method...alot!! I can't brainstorm with people but I can with cards!!

Mary Connealy said...

Tina, I can brainstorm with people, for them. But for myself, I usually...well, I can listen to them and yes, maybe they do give me ideas to jump off of...but ultimately I'm not sure I take much guideance.

I think I know everything.

This is a bigger problem than just in writing!

DebH said...

ah yes, the INVENTORY theme. this is why I love Seekerville. The passing forward of knowledge to us newbies - setting us up for success.


Jamie Adams said...

Wow, I want one of those :) Please put my name in the drawing and thanks for sharing this great tool with us.

Myra Johnson said...

JAN, I do a lot of waiting and stewing, too. Which is what I'm doing right now. I used the brainstorming cards to help me flesh out a vague idea I'd been pondering. Now, with some further direction, I'm back to letting my subconscious do a bit more work. Stay tuned . . .

TINA, if you try the Brainstorming Kit, let me know what you think!

Myra Johnson said...

MARY, I have to admit I'm the same way. I don't mind (mostly, anyway) listening to someone else offer suggestions about my story, but ultimately it's MY story, and I'm gonna do it MY way.

DEB H, sharing info is why we're here! ;-)

JAMIE, I bet you'd have a ball playing with the Brainstorming Kit! It's addicting!

Crystal Ridgway said...

I would love to be entered for the kit! goodness knows I need help brainstorming because,
The. Well. Is. Dry.
Drier than the middle of a hot, rainless Texas summer. I am in the middle of my WIP and no ideas in sight.
Wow, I can't imagine what it must be like to be asked to turn a stand-alone book into a series. I mean, you write the book, and then you have to turn out at least one more book from what you never planned to squeeze another book out of. Big sigh....
Seriously though, I guess it could be fun. If you can keep the story ideas flowing, (which I cant seem to).
I wish I had a group f people to brainstorm with. Sounds super-duper fun.
Toss my name in the hat please.

Myra Johnson said...

CRYSTAL, I've been there, especially in the "sagging middle" when I have NO IDEA what needs to happen next! The Brainstorming Kit also includes suggestions on how to use the cards to get unstuck in the middle of the book.

Janet Dean said...

Myra, I've heard of this brainstorming kit. Sounds fascinating. Not sure if I could work with it.

When I try to think about my plot my mind wanders to everything but my story. I have to either talk about the plot with someone or type--let my fingers do the talking.

I brainstorm better with one other person. Too much input overwhelms me, especially if the ideas are all over the place.

Sometimes brilliant flashes come into my head but those are mostly details that add richness to my story or snippets of dialogue, stuff like that. I've never gotten the whole plot. The plot is the hardest part of writing for me.


Myra Johnson said...

JANET, I hear you!!! Even though I get lots of help from the brainstorming cards, I find I make much more progress when I actually type out the ideas and start playing with them in Scrivener or Word.

As for plotting? Every regular in Seekerville knows I'm a dyed-in-the-wool pantser! Using the cards to brainstorm my plot just gives me the barest framework for plot development. But at least it's more than I had to begin with!

Marilyn Baxter said...

Great topic and very timely for me since I'm brainstorming a new book. Melanie Dickerson and I got together last Saturday at the bookstore to brainstorm. I know she helped me; I hope I was a help to her too. A different point of view often helps. And lots of times the information is in my brain. It just takes someone asking the right questions to pull it out of me.

I'd LOVE to win a copy of that book. It looks terrific!


P.S. Happy birthday, Piper. And feel better Jenny. I regularly use lavender essential oil to help me relax. Peppermint, on the other hand, helps me stay alert. Go figure!

Myra Johnson said...

MARILYN, glad you and Melanie had a good brainstorming session! I agree, sometimes it's good to get someone else's perspective on our story. They can think of questions we never thought to ask.

Walt Mussell said...

Wonderful post. Yes, I'm definitely in.

Two things I try are character interviews and trying to hypnotize myself. (I concentrate on a character and think about them until I get into a state of semi-sleep, thenforce myself to wake up.) What I really would like to do is bounce ideas off others, but I seem to have little time for that.

Myra Johnson said...

WALT, hypnotize yourself? That's a new one. Interesting technique . . .

I know what you mean about liking to bounce things off others. It does take time. Or else I need answers RIGHT NOW, but it isn't a good time for my brainstorming buddies.

Terri said...

Oh, wow! I had no clue that such a tool existed. Please throw my name in the hat.

Sherida Stewart said...

Thank you, Myra! I'd love to be entered for the brainstorming kit. I just came back from the Emerald City Writers' Conference in Seattle. (It was amazing!) I heard "series" as the way to go many times. Thank you for telling us about this kit!

Sherida Stewart said...

Piper, happy birthday!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Love to brainstorm. Usually when I find out about it you are all done. Sigh

Myra Johnson said...

TERRI, it's a handy-dandy little writer's tool to have around!

SHERIDA, for a long time I had no idea series were so popular with readers. There is definitely something enjoyable about making a connection with a setting or characters and then seeing how things change from book to book. It starts to feel like family, in a way. Mary and Julie have both done great jobs with series novels that keep you wanting more.

SANDRA, we definitely have some Seekers who are much quicker on the draw when it comes to brainstorming!

Rina S said...

Do you think this is only for the "pros" or could high school students who like writing stories benefit as well?
As a reader, I appreciate series because then I can spend more time with characters I know and love. Even though that's more work, more stressful work, for all you authors. Thank you for doing it!

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Myra,
What an interesting brainstorming kit! Thanks for sharing. Sounds like it would be fun to use and might provide creative insights into characters and plots.

I like getting together with a couple author friends and bouncing ideas and character traits around. Often an hour or so will give me enough to move from first concept to a more developed story line. Of course, then I have to stew about the plot and give it time to develop...often slowly. :)

Some stories behave better than others. My last one fell right into place. The one I'm working on now seems more demanding. Sort of like children, eh? :)

Myra Johnson said...

RINA, I would imagine high school students would have a lot of fun playing with this system! And I agree about spending more time with favorite characters. As an author, I enjoy it, too! ;-)

DEBBY, I bet it would be really great to brainstorm in person with you--or with any of my Seeker buds! And it's so true that some stories behave much better than others. Don't they know we're the boss???

Kav said...

Love the idea of a brainstorming kit! How cool is that? I've never brainstormed with other people...except my dogs which may be why I always have a canine or two in my stories. :-) Usually ideas hit me at the most inconvenient times when I don't have paper or pen to jot them down. I always think I'll remember the details but that isn't always the case.

Piper Huguley said...


When I saw that you were listed for my birthday on the Seekerville calendar, I knew it would be a great post and it was! Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom and the information about the writer's brainstorming kit. I didn't know about it either, but I believe I will in short order.

Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes today. Ruthy's right, it is a bittersweet kind of day for me today, but I've been kept busy today and can reflect enough to be grateful to God for one more year of life--which is what birthdays are all about, right? And it's a special thing to share a birthday month with Seekerville--a very special and wonderful place!

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Thanks for the information, Myra, and to know that using cards has helped you with brainstorming. Sounds like a very good method. I've been using a resource I won here called Book in a Month. It suggests writing a novel in the traditional three-act story structure. After each arch in the story there's a section with questions to ask yourself. So after Act I there are questions for a turning point brainstorm. This book includes a brainstorm session for the subplot also.
Happy Birthday, Piper.
Glad to hear that peppermint oil is helpful for pain, Jenny.

Jackie Smith said...

Happy Birthday to Piper!!

And prayers going up for Jenny!

Natalie Monk said...

Perfect timing, Myra! I'm working on a plot right now with a vague grasp of the characters, but right now most of it is cliche and I'm really wanting a twist.

On book #1, I used Susan May Warren's "Kiss and Tell" workbook. Excellent stuff.

Put my name in the drawing for the Writer's Brainstorming Kit! I love the card idea. In the mean time, I might get out the Apples to Apples cards and see what comes up. LOL!

Happy birthday, Piper!!

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...


Once again, congrats for sailing away to write many series! :)

That does seem to be the trend, and it's understandable. People become invested in the characters, etc. and want to know more about them.

I'd not really thought about writing completely a DIFFERENT series each time.

These cards would be/will be a great help. Thanks for letting us know. Seems like you could make a cool party game out of them too!

Please toss my name into the hopper. may at maythek9spy dot com


Myra Johnson said...

KAV, sometime pets can be great brainstorming partners! Don't you wish they could talk sometimes, though?

PIPER, glad we could celebrate your birthday with you in Seekerville today!

PAT JEANNE, a system that asks you questions as you go along seems like a good way to avoid blanking out int he middle of the book. Does it work well for you.

Cindy W. said...


Smiles & Blessings to you!

Cindy W.

Myra Johnson said...

NATALIE, Susie May has some great teaching materials. I have read a couple of her instruction books and gleaned some helpful tips.

KC, it would be interesting to try these cards out in some sort of party game. You're in charge of coming up with one! ;-)

Pat W said...

Myra, thanks for the book idea. Sounds like an excellent kit. I would love to win a copy!

Pat W said...

Happy Birthday Piper!!

Myra Johnson said...

PAT W, thanks for stopping by! I'll put your name in th cat dish!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Happy Birthday to Piper!!!

Debby Giusti said...

Happy Birthday, Piper!!!

Birthday cake for you and Seekerville!

Spice is your favorite, right? An extra large slice for you, dh, and ds!

Have a lovely evening!!!

Hugs and love!

Pam Hillman said...

Myra, I too have the Writer's Brainstorming Kit! Got mine at the RWA convention in New Orleans in 2001. :)

It's a good way to jumpstart my creativity especially in the early stages of thinking about a story. I don't always use the cards that are drawn, but sometimes as the story progresses, I might look back at the cards that were drawn and see something that I didn't see before.

Also, I used the Writer's Brainstorming Kit to teach a bunch of 5th graders story structure once. They grasped the concept immediately and crafted the rough-draft of a short story within an hour-long class period. The entire class used the same cards, but everybody's story was different. Those kids are all now 20 years old!

CatMom said...

Wonderful post, Myra---and something I needed as I prepare to work on the second and third books of a series proposal.

I'm currently reading WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLL BY and am LOVING it!!

Please enter me in the drawing for the brainstorming book---I wasn't familiar with this so I'm glad you told us about it!

Hugs, Patti Jo :)

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...


I saw it, I saw it!!

Almost bedtime here, but I saw it.

Audra Harders said...

Oh Myra, I've used this method and it really made me think. I pulled out cards that had me scratching my head wondering how to make this work, but the book walked me through it and ta-da! everything fell into place.

It's a wonderful spring board for folks like me that haven't a clue how to begin a new project. Too many ideas swimming around in my head. I need anchors like this to help me ground my thinking before the "storm". LOL!

Thanks for reminding of this great resource!!!

Elizabeth said...

This reminds me of the brainstorming I have to do for school. Double entry notebooks, free writes, ect. They do help although it does take a lot of time. But I didn't do much for my WIP which sadly shows. I am going to do more for my next book.
Your books sounds so cool. I read everything I can about WWI. The cover is so beautiful with a definite 20's vibe. Reminds me of the cover of Wings starring Clara Bow.

Lyndee H said...

I'm late at this, but wanted to tell you now much I appreciate this post, Myra!

Lyndee H said...

AND Happy Birthday, Piper!

Lyndee H said...

Sorry, I'm disjointed tonight. Would love to be entered for the writers brainstorming kit! Thanks...

Julie Lessman said...

LINDA!!! Good for you, girlfriend -- that is SOOO cool!! You are a go-getter, sweetie, so I'm not surprised. :)


Edwina said...

The card system is a great idea! Please put my name in the hat for the drawing!

Esther Rose said...

I struggle with brainstorming. I'll have to look back on this when I need to do it! Thanks for sharing, Myra!

Oh, and please toss my name in the hat. The book looks very helpful!

Debra E. Marvin said...

I like this a lot. Sweet! Thank yo Myra!
Most of the brainstorming I do is through email with my Inkwell sisters but it's not easy and goes rather slow if we're all busy (and we're all busy!). The card set looks like great prompts for the 'single' writer.

Brainstorming is a blast. I swear it's more fun when it's someone else's story! HA!

please put me in the drawing for the book if it's not too late.

Dana McNeely said...

Wow and a half! These ideas are right on time. Tomorrow our local ACFW group is meeting at my house for our first brainstorming session and, to my knowledge, none of us has done this before. Please put my name in the hat because I don't usually have a lot of ideas in there. (In the hat.) :)

Myra Johnson said...

PAM, I should have credited you from the start, since if I remember correctly, I first learned about the Brainstorming Kit from you! Cool that the 5th-graders picked up on story structure from using the cards!

PATTI JO, so glad you dropped by, and thank you SO MUCH for your sweet words about my book!

Myra Johnson said...

VIRGINIA, glad you made it to Seekerville before bedtime. ;-D

AUDRA, it's really a fun process once you get the hang of it, huh?

ELIZABETH, isn't WWI a fascinating historical era? I've learned so much that went right past me during high school history class lectures.

Myra Johnson said...

LYNDEE, who wouldn't be a little discombobulated after staying up so late? A night owl I am NOT!

EDWINA, you're in the drawing!

DEBRA, I know what you mean about trying to brainstorm via email. Not everyone is on the same schedule. You're in the drawing!

DANA, how fun that you can brainstorm with your ACFW group! Hope you have an idea-filled day!

Myra Johnson said...

ESTER, sorry, I must have slipped right past your comment as I was catching up this morning! Glad you dropped in today, and you are in the drawing!

Myra Johnson said...

And I misspelled your name, dagnabbit!!


ourmutualfriends said...

This a perfect post with NaNoWriMo coming up! I'd love to be put in the drawing for the brainstorming kit.
Elizabeth Kitchens

Myra Johnson said...

ELIZABETH, you're in!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Myra,

Sorry I couldn't get here yesterday. Great topic and a great kit! I've got a four book series I need to brainstorm, so I'd love to be in the draw - if I'm not too late!

Thanks for the tips!


Myra Johnson said...

SUE, I've added your name to the cat dish!

Dora Hiers said...

I'm late, I'm late. But this tool kit sounds great, Myra. I'm finishing book 2, and taking a quick brainstorming break for another series before I start book 3. Sounds very helpful!

LOVED When the Clouds Roll By. The characters and conflict were so real. Thanks for sharing your goodies. :)

Wanda Barefoot said...

Hi Miss Myra! Great post today. I have been wanting to read your book When Clouds Roll By. It sounds really great!

Wanda Barefoot

Valerie Comer said...

Wow, that sounds like a fun tool! I'd love to check it out.

LeAnne Bristow said...

Ekk!!! I was out of town and since I'm still in the dark ages (meaning I don't have a smart phone) I just read your post today. :( Hope I'm not too late for the drawing! Brainstorming always gives me fits. I start with a name and then look up the meaning of the name and things related to it and start building my character from there. As for the rest, I usually just hope it come to me :}

Linda Finn said...

Its a cold morning here in central ny so I think I shall take you up on a hot coffee...21 this morning !
I would so love to win and use the writers brainstorming kit,I have never seen so many good ideas as here on seekerville.
Linda Finn
Faithful Acres Books

Lori said...

I just discovered this post and I have to say that I purchased the Writer's Brainstorming Kit several years ago and it's proven to be so useful. I've come up with so many ideas and from those ideas, come more! TFS !