Favorite Thing Friday: Brainstorming


After more than year of working almost non-stop on Novel #2, I decided to take a little break after completing the third draft. I needed time to work on my query letter and synopsis, so it felt right to put it aside and simply let it breathe.

Too bad my novel didn’t get the memo.

Instead of leaving my brain for a little vacation, my characters and story decided to set up a permanent camp. There is no rest for characters dying to tell their story and a world that can’t wait to be imagined.

I learned a long time ago to never ignore those little voices or creative surges, so I pulled out my trusty novel notebook this week. It has all my notes, sources of inspiration, and outlines from Novel #2 and now it will house all my scribblings for the sequel.

The brainstorming has begun as I piece together a working storyline. The trick is making sure the story picks up where the first book left off, yet is strong enough to stand on its own.  I’ve always had a basic framework for two sequels in that I know happens and how they will end. What remains fuzzy is how my characters will reach those end points. I need to figure out details and fun plot twists!

I began by re-organzing my notebook to ensure the first half will always be for Book 1 in the series. I moved all magazine clippings, images, and outline drafts to make room for whatever I collect for Book 2. Furthermore, I added tabs to separate one book from the other.  For a brief moment I considered moving to a separate spiral, but then I realized some of the inspirations from Book 1 are still in play and I need them to stay close.

Next, I started compiling all the random notes I’ve kept over the last year concerning Book 2. They are hiding on two hard drives, a notepad app on my phone, and throughout my original handwritten notes for Book 1. I’ll be rewriting every single notation so they’re all grouped together in one place. Call me old fashioned, but I like to write my initial notes by hand when starting a novel. It makes me slow down and think carefully about what needs to happen in the story.

I’ll be honest in admitting that the brainstorm stage is my absolute favorite part of the novel writing process. I get a little buzz from from making things up without any limitations. While the work is sometimes grueling, I love the surprises that come as I dig deeper into my fantasy world.

The process has only just begun and there is much to do:

  • Construct a detailed outline (with room for changes)
  • Create a playlist
  • Create inspiration collages (images and text that relate to the story and themes)
  • Fill pages with free write notes
  • Create new character profiles
  • Research (places, historical references, mythology)

There’s at least a couple of months of work on this list, but I’m giddy just thinking about it. This is going to be fun!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2013

The Notebook That Built My Novel


When I first got the notion to write a novel, the most daunting part was getting started.  I had the inspiration, a basic story idea, and a main character, but I realized very quickly none of my ideas mattered unless there was a system in place to give them room to grow.  A journal wasn’t big enough for the job and a laptop didn’t offer the tactile experience I needed to connect to my ideas.  What I ended up creating was The Big Notebook.

I went out and bought the largest spiral notebook I could find along with a set of highlighters, my favorite blue pens, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick.  Then I collected catalogs, magazines, and newspapers from around the house.  With these tools, I could start the mad process of brainstorming or what I like to call “extreme outlining.”  The only rule was anything goes if it has even a remote chance of fitting in with the basic inspiration for the story.

Now, I am an extremely organized person who is well known for color-coding and alphabetizing everything.  Initially, I was going to divide the notebook into specific sections for different categories of information, but that plan fell apart almost instantly. Ideas don’t present themselves in any particular order in my head, so it made more sense to let the notebook come together with a more holistic approach.  In effect, I made a giant mess that defied all organizational logic, but at least the ideas were no longer just floating in my head.

Elements of the mess were then classified into a set of categories I’ve listed below. Underneath each category is a brief summary of what I collected and/or scribbled on random pages.  To keep it all straight, I used a system of highlighter color-coding and symbols.


  • Character cards. Every character got a card that included ideas for names, mini-bios, age, physical traits, quirks, goals, fatal flaws, and saving graces.  As the plot evolved, I continued to add information about their roles in the story.
  • Wardrobe pages.  I went through magazines, catalogs, and clothing store ads to look for clothes my characters might wear.  I cut out an entire wardrobe for all the main characters and pasted it into the notebook.  Each character got a spread and it really helped shape their personalities in a visual sense.

Above: Part of the main character’s wardrobe spread.

  • Personal belongings pages.  Every character has special objects that belong to them – things that define them as individuals.  Through brainstorming I knew what these items were, but I still wanted a strong visual that gave specifics. In the case of the main character, I needed an old camera.  Image searches online, plus a little reading allowed me to track down the perfect camera and a picture to paste in my notebook.


  • I did a lot of free writing to loosen up my imagination, which lead to endless streams of brainstorm bulleting.  If an idea popped into my head, I wrote it down.  The handwriting is atrocious and some thoughts wind all the way around the margins.  Less than half of my rambling was actually used, but the process itself got me to the core of the story.  The brainstorming aspect of writing is probably my favorite step of the process.  Out of all the categories, this one takes up the most space!
  • Sometimes I’d wake up at night with full paragraphs streaming out of my head, so there are multiple pages of complete passages, (many of which have made it to final draft!).

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