Q: Hi, I’m trying to write a novel about two people who meet by accident and then discover that they share an element of their two dark pasts. I have a few general story ideas, but nothing concrete. I know where I want to start my novel and where I want it to end, but it’s the middle that’s stumping me. How do I figure out what to put in the middle of the book?
A: It sounds to me like these two people want to get together, but story-wise there isn’t enough keeping them apart. What you need is a little old-fashioned brainstorming.
At times like this, I like to break out a pack of 3×5 cards (actually, I’ll take any excuse to break out the cards, really). Set a kitchen timer to 10 minutes and just start writing down ideas, one idea per card. Don’t edit as you go; no matter how insipid or ridiculous anything sounds, write it down. Force yourself to keep going until the timer goes off, and then keep going until you run out of steam.
Now, here’s the critical part: stack up your cards and put them away without looking at them. In fact, don’t even take them out again until the next day. Then, go through them with an open mind and pick out your favorites. Even the ideas that didn’t seem so hot when you wrote them might turn out to the the seed of something great. Go with it! Use these as the inspiration for another round of brainstorming, if you like. Then, start writing!
Bonus tip: You can read an article about brainstorming plot ideas here, written by yours truly:
How to Explode With Plot Ideas: http://www.ehow.com/how_8464973_explode-plot-ideas.html
How about you? Do you have a writing question? Send me an email and I just might publish your answer here!
That's awesome. I used to use 3X5 cards too, in different colors for different parts of the story. Now, I have a giant poster board and I use multi-colored post-its with scenes written on them in black ink. That way, I can move them all over the board and shake up my story. It's so anal, Mr. Monk would approve! Great post, cheers.
Isn't it amazing how much easier it is to work with the story when you can move the pieces around visually? I like the sticky note idea — it would save me the trouble of poking myself on those freakin' push pins! (But then what would I do with this humongous pile of 3×5 cards I got for uber-cheap? Curse you, Office Max clearance rack!)
Author Anne Lamott also suggests using index cards for note taking in her book “Bird by Bird.” I believe a trip to Office Max is in my future!