By Debby Giusti
Have you looked in your tool box recently? If so, I hope you found a very important tool for writers, namely brainstorming.
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. It also feeds into the quantity leads to quality theory that I mentioned in my March blog with the ceramics’ class example from Art and Fear (David Bayles and Ted Orland, 1993).
American advertising executive Alex Osborn developed the technique in the 1940s, 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. Known as the Father of Brainstorming, Osborn eventually published his technique in 1953, in a book titled, Applied Imagination, which is still considered a leading work on creativity.
|What's in your tool box?|
According to Osborn, an important key to success was to “hold back criticism until the creative current has had every chance to flow.” He believed that a greater input of ideas led to a better final solution and encouraged thinking outside the box to free the imagination and open new avenues of thought so innovative solutions could be achieved.
|The amazing writers in the class I host in my local community are|
hard at work. First they brainstorm a story and then do hands-on
exercises that apply the lessons taught to the storyline they created.
I first learned about brainstorming in a high school leadership group of which I was a member. Our advisor introduced the technique and walked us through a few practice sessions. I quickly saw the benefit of pooling ideas, unleashing creativity in a non-threatening environment and working together to achieve a goal. The process was energizing and often electric as we shouted out our ideas and saw how we could build on previously mentioned suggestions to achieve a creative solution to the problem or question posed. The technique worked, and we used brainstorming to come up with everything from homecoming themes to strategies to enhance student participation in extracurricular activities.
|Chocolate always improves creativity!|
Fast forward many, many years to when I joined Georgia Romance Writers and came in contact with published authors for the very first time. Until then, I had thought writers worked alone 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 storylines far more satisfying than they could have created on their own. These were successful women who, at that time, had published more than 200 books with millions of copies in print.
I should add that the six GRW authors mentioned above brainstormed their way into the publishing industry when someone in the group threw out the idea of creating a small press where Southern voices could find a home. The way I heard it, Deb Dixon discussed the feasibility of the project as they drove to the beach for a week long brainstorming retreat. By the end of the week, BelleBooks was born.
|BelleBooks Editor, Deb Smith (L), with Deb Giusti at|
the Death by Chocolate Party, RWA 2015.
Seeing the Belles' success, it didn’t take me long to realize I should follow their lead. Soon thereafter, I began to meet with other GRW members to brainstorm stories. At each gathering, creativity was encouraged, and the results were amazing. Whether we were discussing our own books or someone else’s story, 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 storylines for my books with my critique partner, Heartwarming author Anna Adams. Later, I’ll fine-tune specific plot points with my family as we gather around the kitchen table or with my husband when we take our daily walks.
So how does it work? Here are some basic guidelines for a multi-person brainstorming session:
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’s 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.
While I find group brainstorming sessions to be highly productive, variations of the technique can also be used for solitary use.
Free writing or stream of conscious comes under the brainstorming header. It’s most productive when we’re writing fast (producing a great quantity of work), not editing (holding back judgements or negative criticism) and allowing our imagination to run free, all of which we did during Speedbo.
Clustering or Mapping
I use this technique when I need a title for one of my stories. On a large sheet of paper, I jot down a central theme or concept for the story, such as Soldier or Murder. Then I rapidly add words that somehow can be associated with either the story or key word. When I run out of ideas, I circle winning combinations and use lines to connect the various circled words that would work in a title.
|Possible Titles: Military Murder, Murder on Amish Road,|
Deadly Inheritance, Plain Danger and History of Death.
Listing is another brainstorming tool. Decide on two or three headers that apply to the problem needing a solution. Under each header, jot down words that come to mind, without using a filter. Don’t stop until you have 20 or more words under each header. Now draw lines between words in each column that relate. Can you find an interesting combination that provides a unique answer to the problem at hand?
Listing provided the following title suggestions:
Plain Inheritance, Antebellum Harvest, Community
of Danger, Plain Danger, Lost Treasure,
Old World Danger, Old World Inheritance,
and Lost Inheritance.
Donald Maass in, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, uses a variation of this technique in one of his exercises on story development. He asks those attending his writing workshops to write down a list of story ideas, such as an important turning points in their work in progress. The first ten ideas, or so, will be fairly commonplace, while those at the end of the list tend to be fresh and innovative. Maass suggests that the last few ideas will be unique plot points that are the hallmark of a breakout novel.
Folks always like to improve on something good, and there’s lots of talk in industry circles about the downsides of brainstorming, such as participants being inhibited by others or teams moving too far off course during the sessions. To overcome those problems, some companies are inviting their teams to sit quietly with paper and pencil and come up with their own ideas during a certain period of time. The ideas are then passed on to the next person for additional input. Eventually, the composite ideas are looked at and evaluated for merit. By combining ideas and dovetailing various concepts that overlap, a finished product can be achieved.
Whether brainstorming as a group or by yourself, the technique helps to energize your Muse and enhance your creativity. Need a place to hold your brainstorming session? Consider your local library. Reserve a private room for group sessions or find a comfy chair or nook for your own private creative time.
Leave a comment about how you use brainstorming to be entered in a drawing. I’ll be giving away a copy of my latest Love Inspired Suspense, STRANDED, along with a surprise gift for the winner.
In honor of my eldest daughter’s birthday today, I’m serving an assortment of cakes and ice cream: Red Velvet, Chocolate Inside Out Cake, Devil’s Food, Pound Cake, Rum Cake and Carrot Cake along with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream. The coffee and tea are hot. Enjoy!
Wishing you abundant blessings,
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BY DEBBY GIUSTI
AMISH COUNTRY REFUGE
Colleen Brennan has one goal—take down her sister’s killer. But chasing after evidence leaves her in the path of a tornado and stranded in an Amish community. With the killer nearby, Colleen must depend on the kindness of Special Agent Frank Gallagher. Although the army officer is recuperating from a battlefield injury, he wants to help the beautiful woman he rescued from the tornado’s fury. He can tell she’s hiding something important. But getting her to reveal her secrets may be his most dangerous mission ever.
Order your copy in digital or print format: Amazon.