Tag s | Ideas

Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of your book. There are two keys to making it a productive experience.

Willing to Listen

The key is a willingness to hear other ideas. If someone says “your idea won’t work” the first impulse is to be defensive and take offense. That isn’t brainstorming. Instead look at it as an exercise in creativity. No one is saying you have to accept any of the ideas that come up in the discussion. But there might be something there that can improve your work.

Finding the Right People

The second, and a more critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussion and be willing to let an idea they create to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…often a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece. More than once I’ve had an author claim, after I’ve pointed out a structural error in their manuscript, that “this was what my critique group thought should happen.”

That is not to say that critique groups are bad. Hardly. Only that some authors have experienced frustration if the mix in their group is not helpful.

If you have a good relationship with your editor they can be a great sounding board for ideas (but be considerate of that editor’s time). Your agent can also be a safe place to play with concepts. While sometimes the two heads can bump into each other…painfully…the ensuing friction usually creates a spark…the spark of creativity and not contention.

All Genres

This is an exercise for both fiction and non-fiction. Many times a non-fiction writer needs a nudge to redirect the focus of their work to give it strength and a stronger punch.  Or the realization that the book idea is actually a better magazine article. Brainstorming isn’t just an exercise for novelists.

Examples

Years ago, at a writers conference, a well known author gathered a number of published writers together in the late evening and declared, “I have a new book contract and need a better plot than what I have, can you guys help?” Over the next couple hours that group created a dynamite storyline (which is now in print!). That is brainstorming with a group at its best.

I once sat in a publisher’s conference room while a novelist and two editors plotted out the storyline for the author’s next book. Words and phrases were thrown on a white board, often striking out ones that no longer fit. When complete, the sequence of events were transferred to notecards and the board was erased to start the next section. At the end of the day the stack of cards was rather thick. The author quickly numbered each card, slapped a rubber band around it, and declared, “Now all I have to do is write it!” (In case you are wondering, this author liked to write from physical note cards. That doesn’t work for everyone.)

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting a client in her home. After a wonderful dinner with her husband we sat in the living room and brainstormed a critical part of her next novel. We created dozens of ideas and discussed what worked and what didn’t. We also thought through the implication of those ideas for the third book in her series. In the end we didn’t necessarily settle on a specific direction, but what it did was unleash her to create freely. I look forward to reading what she comes up with. There may be echoes of our discussion in the final version, but the exercise alone was kindling for the fire of creativity.

Your Turn:

Where do you go for your brainstorming sessions?

Do you have a successful brainstorm session you can describe to us?

 

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A Novel Idea

As followers of this blog know, I have just returned from a wonderful conference in Oregon. Many of the questions and my interactions there caused me to re-evaluate my way of approaching how and what I read during my personal time. Please note: I am in no way changing my …

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In Search of Ideas

Authors, I’m guessing you’ve heard this question over and over: “Where do you get your ideas?” I know I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Now, if you’re like most writers I know, ideas for possible stories come fast and furious—most of the time. But what to do when you feel as though the idea well has run dusty and dry?

Well! Let me share a few standards that I, and other authors I know, rely on:

The Media

That old saying that the truth is stranger than fiction has stood the test of time for one reason: It’s true! I’ve discovered that the news, whether on TV or in a paper or online, is a veritable mine of ideas just waiting to be…well, mined.

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Fresh Formulas

Some have a hard time appreciating the talent involved in writing genre fiction. By genre fiction, I mean novels that fall into a defined category such as contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, or cozy mystery. Many of these novels are published by mass market publishers (like Harlequin) and fit in lines they have formed for the sole purpose of selling the genre.

These are distinguished from Trade fiction where there isn’t necessarily a specific line that has been formed to sell a genre, although there are exceptions to that “rule” like the “Love Finds You” series from Summerside Press. In publisher’s lingo “trade” means a 5 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ trim size and is probably between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. “Genre” or “category” fiction can mean the 4″ by 6″ trim size (also known as mass market) and between 50,000 words and 70,000 words.

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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part Three)


So, there I were, surrounded by publishing professionals, faced with the question of whether or not we liked–or respected–our end consumer: the reader.

Publishing folk are a freaky bunch. They love to think and debate and share ideas and dissect and explore. Get a whole room of editors going and nothing is sacred. At the same time, everything is. At their core, publishing professionals recognize–and love–the power of words. Spoken, written, sung from the rooftops–words contain the power to create and cultivate, encourage and empower…or decimate and destroy. These particular folks also love God and His Word. So their drive is work on books that impact lives rather than books that just entertain.

So, what did they say, these learned, insightful, imaginative folks? At first, nothing. They stopped–really stopped–to consider the answer to whether or not they like the reader. Publishing pros are great at pondering.

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Loving to Laugh


At least once a week I’m asked if romantic comedy is currently marketable. While sometimes this category seems hot and then cold, I’d say that sharp, witty, well-executed romantic comedy can find a good home no matter what the publishing season. Note that I take the adjectives I used seriously. This is not a category that most writers can whip off with little effort. Successful writers of romantic comedy are gifted with the ability to find humor in everyday situations and the talent to share that humor in an entertaining way. The writing must fly like a magic carpet. The reader is looking for a fun story.
One successful writer of romantic comedy is Gail Sattler. Here is a great tip from Gail:

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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part Two)


So what are some of the answers I’ve been given to the question “What makes a Christian book Christian”? Consider the following:

Written from a Christian world view Story offers hope Core of the story shows importance of faith in Christ

Similar to the things you all wrote in your comments (though I think your responses went far deeper.) But I’ve also been peppered with the following critical comments regarding Christian books:

It’s safe It doesn’t challenge the status quo It doesn’t leave anything unsettled, everything’s resolved Quality doesn’t match that of ABA books Easy answers Doesn’t make readers think Affirms readers beliefs and perspective
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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part One)


I had this discussion over a year ago on my blog, but thought it would be a good discussion for all of you, too. In some ways, publishing is in a state of unbelievable flux. In others, it’s utterly grounded and unshakeable. Good and bad on both sides.

But here’s what I find fascinating–and a bit worrisome. There’s a seemingless endless debate on what makes a Christian book Christian? Is it the context of the book or the faith of the author? What’s in the book or what isn’t? The tone or the specifics? Believe me, when I find myself in this debate, the answers come fast and furious and are as varied as can be. But before I share any thoughts or conclusions, I want to know what you think.

So, as a reader or a writer, what are you looking for in a book from a “Christian” publishing house? Or from a Christian writer.
What do you expect to find.
What do you expect NOT to find?
What makes a book “Christian”?

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The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread?

Guest Post by Teddi Deppner

Today debuts our first guest post. I first met Teddi at the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference while she sat through my Major Morning Track, listening patiently to 8 1/2 hours of lecture over four days. She has recently been asking some penetrating questions about technology and the publishing industry so I invited her to create a post and express those thoughts for your discussion.

Teddi Deppner has published hundreds of websites over the last 15+ years in her work as a professional web designer, marketer and consultant. Recently, she has launched on a quest to map out simple, effective strategies to share with creative people using the Internet and social media for their business. Find her latest projects at www.TeddiDeppner.com.

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Thanks to Steve for the opportunity to share some thoughts with his audience. This post, intended primarily to open a lively discussion, was sparked by an article by Craig Mod about “Post-Artifact Book Publishing”.

Craig’s essay presents the idea that books have traditionally been artifacts: the concrete, physical products of an author. He diagrams the process and participants in the creation, publishing and distribution of this artifact and how things are changing now that books have become more than static artifacts.

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