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Writing Tip: Structure, Part Two–Brainstorming

So, I’m a day late on this. Yesterday was crazy! Borough Market, a matinee at The Globe and sushi at Nobu. I should’ve planned ahead and written this before I went out, but you live and learn. 😉

Back onto the topic of structure:

Last week, I talked about mentally preparing to start plotting and planning. It can go a little against the grain for some, but it’ll save you in the long run! I promise!

This week, I thought I’d mention one more step before you start to outline: Brainstorm. Think everything through about your story before you start plotting. Preferably with a partner.

I talked about this at dinner last night with a friend from my MFA program. (I’m taking that as a sign that a late blog post was meant to be.) It’s a really good idea to talk your story out with a trusted friend. Why? Because they’ll save your butt.

Seriously. You could be so into building one little microscopic bit of your world, and then they ask a question and you’re like, “HOLY SHIT! This changes everything!” The whole point of my posts about structure is to really save you time. As the years go by, the time I have seems to be getting less and less. This, my dear reader, will save you time. And this is why.

If there is a problem with your story, your world, or your characters, you need to know it ASAP. The sooner the better. Because the questions will pop up as you share with other writers, readers, and friends. It’s much easier to fix a book that hasn’t been written yet. You can still modify your vision. Tweak to your heart’s content. Once it’s on the page, it’s called re-writing. Meaning you’re doing it again. AGAIN!

Now, you’ll be doing some re-writing no matter what. It’s all about degrees. How much time do you have to re-write?

The key to brainstorming well is to find a good friend that you trust. Someone that you can go to with your ideas that won’t judge you or make you uncomfortable. Also, someone who knows that even if they say something that sparks one of your ideas, they won’t make you feel like they now own part of your work.

If you don’t have anyone like this in your life, join a writing group. Join online groups. Seek out new people to share ideas with.

And if you still can’t find someone that you feel comfortable brainstorming with, then make sure you ask yourself all the questions. Make a list of your setting. Your characters. Your plot. Then, question everything. Motivations. Religion. Hair color. EVERYTHING. This is more complicated if you’re writing speculative fiction (because you have to add social structure, magic systems, etc.), but that much more important.

The thing to remember is that although writing is mostly a solitary craft, it shouldn’t always be a solitary one. Having someone read your work, ask questions, give advice, and brainstorm with you again when you get stuck half-way through your book is essential. That’s not to say that you can’t do it on your own. Lots of people do. But it makes the journey that much better to get help and to give help. You learn just as much (or more) helping someone else with their writing, than you do when you’re receiving any help. At least, that’s what I’ve found.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Critique partners and brainstorming partners are worth their weight in gold. The sooner you find yours, the faster your writing will improve.

Next week, we’ll talk about how to start taking your ideas and putting them into the simplest, most basic form of an outline.

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