Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Preparing to Write Part 1: How to Brainstorm Your Novel

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A story idea may spark in many number of ways: through a photograph, song, news story, etc. As a writer, it is crucial that we keep our eyes open to the endless possibilities around us. Train your mind to always be on the lookout for a new story (or character) idea, and keep a notebook handy so you can jot down these ideas as they come.

However, just because you may have an idea for a story doesn't necessarily mean it is okay to go ahead and begin writing it. Even if you are a seat-of-a-pantser (meaning your story unfolds as you write), you must not skip this step. Brainstorming turns an okay idea into a genius one.

It may take weeks—or even months—to develop an idea. The good news is: You don’t have to wait until you’re at your computer (or notebook) to brainstorm. When I have a story idea, I am constantly trying to think of ways in which to flesh the idea out even further. Ideas may come while I am cleaning, taking my dog on a walk, or even watching TV.

➙ Beginning to Brainstorm

Every idea begins with one story-starter. This usually comes in the form of 1 – 2 sentences, such as: “A husband and wife are planning on getting a divorce when the wife finds out she has cancer.”

Once you have your story-starter, it is time to begin asking the “What if” questions:

What if . . .

  • the cancer prolongs the divorce?
  • the husband begins sympathizing with his wife?
  • they reminisce old memories when the wife is in the hospital?
  • the wife’s cancer continues to progress?
  • the wife is miraculously healed?
  • or she ends up passing away?

When you ask “What if” questions, you will soon have a developed story idea rather than just a story-starter.

Keep in mind that the possibilities are endless. When your “what if” list is complete, you can then branch our even further and write new “what if” questions for the original ones. That way, you can begin to decide which direction you should take your story.

For instance:

If the wife ends up dying, what if . . .

  • The husband reads her diary?
  • He decides to never get married again?
  • He regrets his behavior towards her for the past five years or so?
  • He tells his friend, who is also considering divorce, not to go through with it?
If the wife is miraculously healed, what if . . .

  • They start having problems again because of financial stress due to the hospital bills?
  • They burn their divorce papers?
  • They decide to take action to save their marriage?

There are also several brainstorming apps that can help develop and organize your ideas:

  • Freemind – This one is especially useful for the above brainstorming technique.
  • iBrainstorm – This app allows you to jot down notes and ideas.
  • Writer’s App – This app allows you to organize your plotting ideas and is specifically made for writers.
  • XMind – This allows you to manage your information and organize brainstorming ideas in a web-format.
  • Popplet – Another app that uses a web to store your ideas, except this one allows you to insert photographs as well. Perfect for those who are visual thinkers, like myself.

Also, as you brainstorm, ask yourself:

  • What kind of stories do I love?
  • Is there a book that I would love to read, however it doesn't even exist (yet)?
  • What are my favorite elements in a story? (It could be a setting, plot thread, character, genre, etc.)
I recommend keeping a journal or a binder for your book as you begin. It always helps to have a tangible object that contains your story ideas. You can also create a private board on Pinterest and pin quotes, song lyrics, and photos that relate to your book. I also recommend creating a playlist, which you can do by downloading Spotify. It is always nice to have a soundtrack for your story, even if you don’t necessarily listen to music as you write.

Be sure to check back next week for Preparing to Write Part 2: How to Plan Your Story!

    ✎ How do you usually brainstorm? Are there any apps you use that I did not mention? 

photo credit: @boetter via photopin cc

  • Brainstorming turns an okay idea into a genius one. @tessaemilyhall on how to brainstorm Click to Tweet!
  • "As a writer, it is crucial that we keep our eyes open to the endless possibilities around us." Click to Tweet!
  • How do you brainstorm a novel? YA Author @tessaemilyhall shares her tips at #yalitchat Click to Tweet!

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All story ideas expressed in this post are completely my own and are copyrighted.


  1. Thanks Tessa! This is really helpful. I have a binder that I keep all my ideas, quotes, and snippets in. Anything interesting that pops in my head, I write down. Once I finish with the project I'm on, I go to the notebook and pick at least one out and brainstorm it. Sometimes I can combine two or three of those ideas for one really intricate story!

    1. Great idea! I do something similar, except I keep all of my ideas under a folder on Microsoft Word. You might have mentioned this before, I can't remember, but have you finished a complete novel yet?

    2. I have! Technically I've finished five, but two of those will probably never escape the folder in Word and the other three need editing. I used to be really bad about not spending the proper amount of time post editing and jumping straight into a new project. Some of those need more work than others. I'm in the process of editing one of those for a prospective agent.

    3. That's awesome that you've completed five books! What genre do you write?

    4. Thanks! I write YA adventure, scifi, and fantasy.


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