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So it was brought to my attention that I’ve written frighteningly little on brainstorming and my brainstorming process, and I suspect that’s probably because my process is fairly nebulous and can vary depending on the book.
That said, I’m going to try to explain the best I can anyway.
So you have some kind of idea. Maybe it’s just a character, or a single scene, or a vague compilation of images. For me, it almost always starts with a character (though Beyond the Red was a notable exception), usually the protagonist. But regardless of where you idea begins, when all you have is a fragment, it can seem kind of impossible to turn it into a whole book.
The very first thing I do when I have an idea fragment I want to explore is make a bulleted list. This list will include anything and everything I think of related to the idea: What If? scenarios, other characters, potential sources of conflict, possible scene ideas, setting notes, genre/category notes, themes I’m interested in exploring, etc. In this stage, I don’t filter at all—the idea is to just get as much down as possible.
Usually, by the time I get to the bottom of the list, I’ve started to get a feel for the potential book. That’s when I go back and start to weed things out by starring bullets I really like. Once I’ve got my main bullets marked out, potential plot ideas start (slowly) forming in my mind.
The very first plot point I tend to nail down is the inciting incident. Occasionally another random plot point will surface before the inciting incident, but once I have the inciting incident down, that’s when I open up Scrivener and start a new project.
Note that at this point, starting a new Scrivener project does not guarantee the book is going to be written. Or even fully plotted for that matter. All it means is I like where this idea is going enough that I want to explore it further. There’s no pressure whatsoever in this stage—I’m just testing the fragments I have to see if I can expand and weave it together into a potential book plot.
I’ve mentioned before that I am a plotter, and this is where the plotting really begins. I go straight to Scrivener’s cork board, write down the inciting incident and any other scene ideas I already have…then stare at it and try to push it further. I like to start from the inciting incident and think, okay, what could happen next? Some questions I frequently ask myself in this stage include:
- What happens next?
- How can I make this worse?
- What if x happened?
While I do this, I try to keep the main points in mind. Generally the first couple points I want down are the big plot points (Inciting Incident, Point of No Return, Rising Action, Dark Night of the Soul, Climax, Falling Action, Ending) but it doesn’t always work out that way. The ending, especially, I often don’t figure out until I’ve plotted most of the book.
From there, there’s a lot of back and forth. I jump around between flash cards and add new scene ideas wherever I can think of them, writing a sentence to a paragraph on each card to describe the scene/plot point. I delete scenes, rewrite them and move them around until the plot makes sense and fits the way I want it to. Once I’ve hit roughly somewhere between 30-50 flash cards (depending on how long I sense the book will probably be) and I can’t think of anything else to add and it all flows together in a way that makes sense, I know I’m ready to start first drafting.
And maybe when I’m first drafting I’ll fall in love with the characters and the ideas and write the whole book. Or maybe I won’t. But either way, if the idea makes it to the end of the plotting stage (not all ideas do), then I know at the very least it’s worth experimenting with with some words.
How do you turn an idea into a plot?
How do you expand a book idea into a whole plot? Writer @Ava_Jae explains her process. (Click to tweet)