Brainstorming a novel may not be for everyone, but it’s a part of the writing process that I love and swear by. In fact, playing around with an idea before I start writing is one of my favorite things to do. Nothing is wrong with my idea while I’m brainstorming; it’s shiny and new and I’m just having fun with it.
But I think the prospect of brainstorming a novel can be a little daunting if you’ve never attempted it before–at least it was for me. So if you’re new to brainstorming, I put together a few of my top tips for basic brainstorming to give you a place to start.
1) Break your brainstorming down into steps or stages
The more bite-sized the better. Take it one character at a time, one setting at a time, one plot point at a time. I think brainstorming gets big and overwhelming if you focus on all the parts of your book you have to consider, which is exactly why you should never do that. Put your focus on one aspect of your book at a time and trust that if you keep that up, your book will come together.
2) Start with three characters and a goal
If you’re not sure where to begin when you’re brainstorming a novel, this is a good place. I recommend three characters because it creates interesting dynamics and plenty of opportunities for tension. Figure out how your characters are connected, how they conflict with each other, and how they will help or hinder each other. Then figure out what their goal is. Are they working together to achieve the same goal? Or against each other to achieve that goal before one of the other characters?
Using these elements as a baseline can kickstart your story. It’ll help you establish your character dynamics and the purpose of your plot before you start writing.
3) Figure out your ending as early as possible
In my experience, it’s a lot easier to plan and/or write a book if you know what you’re building towards. If you can figure out your end point, then you essentially know your story’s purpose. It gives you and your story a direction, which is ridiculously helpful if you’re planning your book. It’s also a huge help to know where you’re going when it comes time to write.
4) Pick a few rough plot points
Once you have your end point, pick out a few key plot points you’ll need to hit to get yourself and your characters to that climactic moment. Just like your end point gives your entire book direction, your plot points can serve as stepping stones and provide you with some short-term checkpoints to keep on track.
You can plot these points out a few different ways. I tend to start at the beginning of the book and add a few points along the way that build to my climactic moment. Another option is to start at the climax and work backward. So, if you know what your climax is, what has to happen right before that point? And what about the point before that? Play around with it to see what’s best for you.
I tend to plan four plot points before I hit the climax, but that’s what works for me. You may want more, or less, or none at all.
5) Free write, free write, free write
Seriously, if you do nothing else, I’d encourage you to give this a try–even if you’re not that into brainstorming. It doesn’t have to be long or detailed. It can jump around or move sequentially. I’ve found that free writing tends to open windows into my story that I would not have otherwise considered. It gives me the freedom to think about my story in a way that isn’t at all structured or final and helps me develop my half-formed thoughts and ideas.
I would especially recommend freewriting if you think you’re not much of brainstormer, but kind of want to give it a try. It’ll allow you to give brainstorming a shot, but if free writing turns into drafting you’ll be able to drop your words right into your project. The Writing Cooperative talks about the benefits of freewriting here, including that it drives inspiration. Naturally, this is great for the brainstorming phase! Hopefully, that inspiration will lead to more ideas! For more on how freewriting can help your book, check out this post!
I hope this post you with brainstorming a novel!
These are the basic components, but your brainstorming can be as light or as detailed as you find helpful. You can use these tips as the starting point, or it can serve as your entire brainstorm. For more brainstorming posts, be sure to hit the tag below!
Now it’s your turn: Have you tried brainstorming a novel before? If you have, what approach do you take? If you haven’t, what do you like about diving into drafting? Tell me all about it in the comments!
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