Brainstorming: The How, When, and Why

You’re probably familiar with the concept of brainstorming. In fact, maybe too familiar: it’s all too easy to stay up until 3:00 AM thinking about the one aspect of a certain character. And depending on who you are, You might not be able to stop yourself. To be honest, brainstorming is fun.

It’s a session of ordered chaos: a time when all bets are off and everything’s on the table. For now, you’re forgoing quality for quantity in the interests of content. The goal is to get the ball rolling and to use the momentum to keep it rolling. Brainstorming is a time when you procure as much marble as you possibly can. Editing is where you take that marble and make a sculpture.

Now, you plotters and pantsers might have differing methods of brainstorming. For plotters, brainstorming tends to be more structure and a bit more reserved in its idea generation. For pantsers, a common option is to outline the first few chapters by way of a simple mental construction (I’m sure you’re familiar with a pantser’s mortal fear of written outlines) but tends to make those chapters ultra-detailed and layered with complexity.

Like I usually say, there’s pros and cons to either side, but trying to be a plotter when you’re a pantser is like ramming two outlet cords together. It’s not going to do you any good. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a hybrid between the two, I do occasionally engage in the guilty pleasure of a four-page outline of the most important ideas for a story. However, a note to pantsers: if you wanna be a freak of nature like me and create an outline or two, I would definitely warn you against outlining the plot directly. A description of an inciting incident, perhaps, with a catalogue of a few important things that need to happen along the line. But avoid plotting out the narrative altogether (again, if you’re an outliner, this advice is not for you)

So I’ve told you the how to brainstorming. To be honest, it’s not that hard. All artists have brainstorming sessions, and use them (mostly) the same way that we writers do. But the when is what a lot of people get wrong. In fact, if you assumed that there wasn’t a when to brainstorming, you’d be right–and, simultaneously, wrong.

So what do I mean by this rambled and confusing statement. Well, I’ll say this: inspiration waits for no man or woman. Failing to brainstorm when inspiration hits will often result in a loss of a story. A seedling idea won’t grow into a story without a bunch of other ideas to support it, just like a seed will never develop without soil, water, and sunlight.

Point being? If you want that story idea to survive, you need a bunch more ideas. Brainstorming is the ideals procurement for such ideas, and you’re an industrious young writer. Even if you’re already working on a book, or even a book series, you want to save the idea for later. But unless you attend to the idea, at least to write it down somewhere, it’s going to wither and perish. So in that respect, there’s no when to brainstorming. Whenever you get hit with that special idea is go time.

But what many writers miss is the idea of targeted brainstorming. This should be employed when you’re stuck or in need of ideas to either spice up your story or make it go forward. In such cases, you need to sit down at your dining room table with a notepad and a pen (don’t use your computer for this exercise) and brainstorm like you would if you were only creating this story for the first time. Don’t assume that you can’t brainstorm just because the story is already started. The process of idea-gambling is open to you as long as the manuscript remains unpublished. (although I would try leaning more into a reined-in method of editing as you reach the final stages of your story’s draft)

So if you like to schedule things, mark a day out of every week or so to sit down for like fifteen minutes and take a field trip into the wild, unexplored land of random ideas. If you’re not one who marks things down on the calendar, brainstorm whenever you’re stuck. So the answer to when you are to brainstorm is early and often.

So now we’ve got the how and when, and the why is an unspoken truth by now. But it won’t do to unleash your new skills upon an unsuspecting world without a fair bit of vision. So, if you’ll let me hold your attention for just a bit longer, I’ll see what insight I can offer into why we brainstorm.

While J.J. Abrams’ mystery box is a travesty of “organized” storytelling, I agree with the sentiment behind it: Abrams once said that interest in stories comes from the fantasy of the unknown, the trading of what is for what could be. After all, that’s what storytellers do: they effectively tell lies for people to shamelessly immerse themselves in for many long hours. But the fascination in stories come from the sentiment that they don’t actually exist in reality, the delight in the potential of an alternate world.

Since the mystery box is a mess and I wouldn’t recommend employing that severe of a storytelling option, brainstorming draws on a similar focus: since brainstorming is directed chaos with so many computations going on at once, the chances that a fascinating story idea will result is actually pretty likely. But it’s that randomness that gives rise to our stories, that ordered chaos (which we then must organize into chaotic order in the editing process) that first grips the reader and makes them interested.

Brainstorming effectively is a technique that takes a while to master. It’ll always be a bit rough around the edges: after all, that’s the nature of brainstorming. But it’s one of those things in life that are worth doing, and if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing correctly.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: