Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Doesn't Happen

Yesterday I had fun brainstorming with my friend Liz for a new idea. No I am not ditching my current WIP, the word count is rising accordingly. I just wanted to take some time to write out the thoughts on a shiny new idea so I wouldn't forget.

Also, I've noticed that my ideas ferment better if I can develop them a little bit, and then let them go. You can't make wine if the grapes aren't smashed and bottled, you know?

So I smashed some grapes yesterday. Liz had a brilliant new game that I thought I would share.

Usually when brainstorming I play "What if?" as in "What if the main character was actually an alien?" 

But Liz suggested I do "What doesn't happen?" You list all of the things the plot event/character/idea is not. For example we were working on the job of the main character. She worked at an agency as a translator, but I didn't know what the agency did. It was easy to say what I didn't want it to be, because I'd thought about it:

*It was not the sort of agency that took on major crimes. I didn't want to write a paranormal police procedural, and if you have your characters solving murders, then that's what the book is about. You kill someone, the reader expects there to be justice and suspects. 

*It was the sort of agency that expected a small amount of trouble, but not so much that it happened every day. So, working at a museum you don't expect to get into trouble. Working in a police station, it's a part of daily life. I need somewhere in between.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. 

Next time you're stumped, go ahead and list all the things the plot element is not. It's a great way to narrow down your focus and hopefully, find out what the element is. 

By the way, I still don't have my answer, but that's okay. It's still a fledgling idea, and needs time to fester--I mean grow.

What about you? What do you do to nurture new ideas?


  1. Okay, that is kind of brilliant. I need to sit down and try that technique. My ideas always seem to come as what if's... what if XYZ fantastical situation actually happened. I ALWAYS write those down and then I let them sit for a while and marinate. Usually I come up with a couple great ideas a while later that I also write down. One of the most important things has been to occasionally go over my idea list. Turns out combining some of my ideas can make an okay idea into a great story.

  2. I love that tactic. And, I know it sounds odd, but there's actually a number of interesting things that can--and do--happen at museums. I've worked with curators, and they have stories. But they are pretty few and far between. Just greater than zero.
    They even sometimes help solve murders, just usually murders that happened a thousand years ago. Talk about cold cases.

  3. Sierra: I thought so to! Liz is kind of brilliant. And I have noticed that combining ideas is a great way to make things feel fresh and interesting!

    Rena: I thought I could make a story work set a museum if it was a one time thing, but I thought it would stretch credibility if something came up enough to need people with combat skills.

    I wonder what sort of stories curators would tell...interesting ones, no doubt.