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Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Please welcome guest blogger Ella Drake

Before I started writing with the goal of publication, I worked for a time in a product development and user testing environment. Part of my job was to help in creation of new ideas, products, websites, etc. This involved coming up with ideas as a group, and sometimes we used various ways of directed brainstorming. I thought I'd show you some of the tools we used and then relate it to how I brainstorm for story ideas.

Tools. In a group meeting setting we sometimes used props such as the Creative Wack Pack by Creative Think http://www.creativethink.com/. This is a deck of cards that ask various questions to direct you in thinking of your problem in several angles. One way the cards do so is to prompt you to think in a new directions. Like, looking at something in the opposite way, or relating it to a random object. It was an interesting exercise in idea creation, but we didn't end up using it frequently in the product environment, but it might be fun to try again as a writer. They now have a Iphone/iPod version of the card deck. It might be worth taking another look: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id307306326?mt=8

There are other brainstorming tools out there, if this is an area that you feel you need to work on, then do a quick search. You'd be surprised at the number of tools available.

The White Board. We'd sit in a room with or without snacks (I venture to guess we did better when we had snacks) and cover the white board with ideas that people throw out. Sometimes we might have columns and think of ideas in specific idea areas or we might just throw anything up on the board to think about. It really helps if you have one of those new boards that can capture what's been written. The important thing here is that all ideas are captured, no matter how tangential they may seem. Because at some point, that idea may be used to freshen the idea or move us in a new direction.

Mindmaps and flowcharts. Put all the elements you need and start building out from that. This was usually implemented when we started from a set of requirements. We already had building blocks, so now we worked on the flow of how a product would work. What happens if a user clicks here? Flow-charting ended up being my most relied upon tool in thinking through how a product works.

Drawn sketches or storyboards. As simple as sitting down together at a table and sketching ideas, discussing them, moving them around. These could be as simple as stick figures or as elegant as a fleshed out graphically designed screen shots.

Focus groups. Bring in a group of people and ask directed questions to prompt them to brainstorm. Things like, look at this, how does it make you feel? What would you do here? What concept do you think of? What do you think happens next? This is another sort of skill I reuse as an author. The "why". If the hero does this... why does he do it? What happens next? Why does that happen next? The worldbuilding is set here. Why is it set here? Why does the science work this way?

All of these ideas and techniques have helped me in my role as author. The ones I've found that I use the most are the flowchart and the concepts behind the focus group. I frequently use a flow chart for my plot. This is the closest I get to plotting, but it makes sure I hit high points and I capture any concepts I need from each plot point.

But my most effective brainstorming tool now is to just let my mind go. Frequently I'm hit with a storm of ideas while on a walk, in the shower, or when I'm lucky, when I direct the tail end of a dream. This is rare, that moment during waking when my mind isn't quite awake and I can let it wander down the path of a story. The key point I've taken away is that no idea is bad. Capture all those ideas, and let your mind wander and wonder.

How do you brainstorm?

Ella Drake

Author of The Forbidden Chamber from Samhain Publishing, erotic paranormal short stories "Scent of Cin" and "Wolf-Bitten" from Cobblestone Press, and an erotic SciFi-Rom novella, "Firestorm on E'Terra" in the Hearts Afire: December Anthology from Liquid Silver Books.

http://www.elladrake.com/ || twitter || facebook


Lisa Kessler said...

I get a lot of ideas to help move a story along during hot yoga class...

Apparently my brain exercises too! LOL

Great blog!

Lisa :)

Lori said...

I do get some of my best ideas when exercising, so maybe we are exercising our brains!
That & when I'm driving.

Anonymous said...

HI! Great post.

I love MIND maps. I used them on every novel I've written. Love doing that, just letting the stuff flow out randomly, then get it in order.

Fun, Fun, Fun.