Authors: Take Brainstorming to the Next Level. Let It Help You EDIT.

clip-notes-1351643-mYesterday I broke down content edits into different categories. Today, I want to talk a bit more about editing and developing plot: whether you are editing an outline or a full-fledged draft. What happens when you just don’t know how to fix the problems with your draft’s plotline?

One trick is a classic: brainstorming (I know, I know…. bear with me. Brainstorming is just the starting point).

Take a few minutes and write down any and every possible solution to your problems. Go off on wild tangents.

Brainstorming is especially good for plot hole problems, or problems with a new subplot you’re not sure how to develop.

I tend to overlook brainstorming as an editing solution, opting for logic-based methods. But if you can accept that your solutions might require some changes to your story–hopefully, changes for the better–brainstorming can be a great starting point for a novel idea.

Do like all brainstormers: write down anything that comes to mind as a way to fix your plot problems, no matter how crazy they feel. You don’t have to end up using the crazy ideas, but you just might.

More likely, some crazy idea or other will spur a realization that will guide you in a more logical direction, but also a new direction. A direction you might not have set out on without that crazy idea to set you on the path.


And this is the meat of the post. I realized when I was planning this article out that brainstorming is obvious, simple, and often touted. Still, it’s not enough by itself.

Brainstorming solutions to plot problems is most helpful when you take things to the next step by forming “if-then” hypotheses.

What you brainstorm becomes the “IF” part. Take that crazy (or not-so-crazy) idea that just might work, and see where it leads to.

  • If the princess kills a slaver from an enemy kingdom, then the king might just have to declare war (or defend himself against a declaration of war by his enemies).
  • If the count’s secretary stands up to him, then the count will feel threatened and try to quash him somehow.
  • If the manor catches fire, the count will blame his secretary because he’s just fired him. Even if the secretary has nothing to do with it. Even if it was an accident and the slavers were responsible…. OOH… why would the slavers burn the count’s manor???

See what I mean?

“If-then” can be a fantastic way to flesh out your ideas and to generate new ideas as well.

Maybe the “if” part doesn’t fit, but you REALLY love the “then” and come up with a different cause to bring about the desired effect.

Heck, maybe something you come up with will spur an idea for a separate short story, novella, or even novel. The cool thing about plot points is that they’re versatile.

You can DEFINITELY take an idea originally inspired by one set of characters and use it to develop another set you like just as much. Or, you can use your idea in a sequel of some kind.

Anyways, I hope this tip is useful. Brainstorming isn’t something you need to waste crazy amounts of time doing, but if you’re trying to develop or formulate a plot, whether while outlining, drafting, or editing, it could prove useful.

I wish I had come up with this idea earlier. Next time I get stuck on plot, I’m DEFINITELY pulling out the pen and paper.

What do you think about this tactic? Have you done something similar? Do you have a totally different way to spur your creativity?

If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget you can sign up to follow my blog by email at the top right of the page, so you don’t miss future posts. You might also find these related posts useful:

  1. Two Ways to Use Character To Move Past Writer’s Block
  2. Editing a Chaotic First Draft
  3. Two Types of Writer’s Block



33 responses to “Authors: Take Brainstorming to the Next Level. Let It Help You EDIT.

  1. I always pull out the pen and paper and write down all sorts of things, whether they fit with my original content or not. I can always find a new direction or a new idea for a future project – I call it freewriting, and I go off on all sorts of crazy tangents – and then I keep my notes for future reference. There’s always somewhere I can use them. What a thoughful post.

    • Freewriting is a LOT like brainstorming and just as useful a tool!!! I think the difference is that in freewriting you write more and the key is not to stop writing at any point…. you just go with whatever is in your head 🙂

      I’m glad you stopped by and brought up freewriting because it can DEFINITELY go hand in hand with brainstorming…. It could even be a good way to flesh out those original brainstorming ideas.

  2. Thank you, I am having my own fair share of Issues in the planning department and this was well planned for triggering some line of thought.

    • Glad it was helpful!!! Brainstorming is great, I think, to get the creative juices flowing and training yourself not to reject an idea that in some form or fashion could work.

      Even if nothing you brainstorm works out, I think it puts your mind in a more creative mood, helping you get better at thinking out the box.

  3. I think that’s a great tactic. I use something similar when writing combat scenes. If one character goes one way then the other character can go this way or do this. It’s a network of ‘If-Then’ until I reach a point where the fight has to end. As for non-combat parts, I dream up various trails when doing other things if I’m stuck. I have an issue with my 6th book that I finally brainstormed my way through. Took me in an entirely different direction with a character’s abilities too.

    For some reason, the examples with a secretary kept making me laugh because I imagined a noble yelling at a modern-day secretary. It’s early and I’m easily amused.

    • hahahaha!!!!!! That’s great! 😛 A fun and humorous start to a day 🙂

      I agree, combat scenes are great for an if-then approach. That’s more or less how I break them down too. They tend to be my hardest scenes to write, from a plot perspective, but my style suits action and “doing” moments well, I think.

      • Same here. Though, I have a habit of drawing the fights into a situation where I have to backtrack because it can’t go any further. Even worse, I always have a moment where the intended winner is put in a point where he/she can’t get out of it. I swear, I hear the characters calling me an idiot whenever that happens.

        Another plot type that ‘If-Then’ can help is the Love Triangle/Square/Whatever plots. I have one of those and I’ve had to write down multiple endings to it. Still not sure where to go with it.

        • Oh man, I’m NEVER sure how romantic relationships will end…. Not while writing a first draft! My current WIP in particular, I have a romance subplot driving me NUTS, hahaha! I didn’t wrap anything up in the draft and now while editing I have thrown a wrench in the situation and I’m kind of trusting it will work itself out, haha!

        • I did the bonehead move of choosing a winner from the beginning. It helped plot out future books where these characters are involved. Now the other one is winning, so I have no idea any more.

  4. I’m obsessed with brainstorming, truly.

    I found a software that is made for mind mapping called NovaMind5. I can brain storm and connect and idea dump all I want. It’s nice not to have any restrictions and just let it all go. I love it!

  5. Nice article. I just read “On Writing” by Stephen King, and he seems to disapprove of any sort of plotting and is a complete seat-of-the-pants writer. I think I like your approach better!

    • I tend to write by the seat of my pants, but come editing time, I need SOMETHING to make everything mesh and fall together. And sometimes I need to change things that don’t make much sense 🙂

  6. When I went away for my holiday this year I took the brainstorming sheet I had drawn out for my current WIP. I thought I had mind-mapped a “good enough to work from” plan of the novella. Until I began to block it all out and found one box in the map was full of “?????” which came between “Big life or death moment” and “They all live happily ever after”. I think I need to be less vague in the future.

  7. Another great post. Such a great idea. I’ve had to implement this in my own editing process. Sometimes, I’m afraid to brainstorm at this stage, because I’m afraid that I’ll end up having to rewrite a significant portion of the book. But when I think that, I’m just thinking of myself, rather than what’s best for the story. Sometimes after brainstorming, I discover that I’ve already come up with the best solution, which is nice to know! But when I’m stuck, brainstorming really helps.

  8. What an interesting idea! I admit that I’ve never really tried brainstorming for writing, but now that I’ve read how it helps you, it wants me to give it a try!

    • This was something that occurred to me as I’m trying to fight through some tough content edits…. I’ve been really pushing the “if-then” thing when I come up with a possible solution and it’s been fun 🙂

  9. This is one of those things where it seems obvious now you say it, but it hadn’t occurred to me. Usually, if I find a problem at the editing stage, I just use the first solution that comes to mind. But brainstorming a bunch of different options is likely to lead to something much better, making the effort of editing more worthwhile. Thanks!

  10. This is great information. I haven’t gotten to the editing part yet, I’m stilling working on my first draft. I am still working on some plot points and fleshing some characters out. As I brainstorm and think of the back stories, I realize there are several and I need more characters than I thought. The reason that I’m writing today is a question that I’ve been pondering. What is the difference between outlining and mind mapping? Is it a matter of structuring where mind mapping is more of a free writing or brainstorming, whereas outlining is more rigid? That is what I am assuming, yet something tells me that there is a bit more to it than that. Thanks again! I look forward to your posts every day. 🙂

    • I think it might be a case of to-may-to to-mah-to 🙂 I would agree with you: I would consider an outline more formally organized and thus a bit more “rigid.” But some writers might do what we would consider mindmaps or brainstorming and consider that work to be an “outline” or at least the beginnings of one.

      I think it depends on the person. I like your distinction though and think your definitions make sense.

  11. Thanks for your prompt response. I’m glad to be on the right track. I realize that I’m pretty much a pantser too, but I am trying to get some ideas for characters and sub-plotting and I think my mind works more when I am all over the place rather than pigeonholing everything under a heading. I am like a child when it comes to outlining. You know: “NO, I WON’T, I WON’T, I WON’T!!” lol. I like the idea of mind mapping much better. I am going to try that. I think that is the answer to my dilemma right now. Thanks again! 🙂

  12. Speaking from an acting perspective, this also would do wonders for character building, building as it does on character intentions. When intentions are unclear, it also could give a clearer idea of what a character’s intentions and motivations are.

    If pirates gets in in the way of a colony ship and its destination, how does Captain Renaldi react? Well, that depends entirely on his intention.

    If Captain Renaldi intends to be done with the troublesome refugees as soon as he can, then he will react differently than if he’s collaborating with pirates to rob these refugees, or if he sympathizes with them. From here, ask why: Is it some grudge or prejudice? Has he been comprimised by the promise of lucre? Ask why again, and again —

    Maybe this “asking why” is a different technique, but it does fit together with “if-then” pretty well. These tools are surprisingly modular, dontchaknow.

    • Great points here!!! This really can help determine character action through focusing on motivation. Thanks for your example: I really liked it!!!

      And you actually hit TOMORROW’S post on the head: it’s set to go live at midnight and is all about asking why 🙂

  13. Pingback: One Simple Way To Resolve Plot Issues In Your Novel | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  14. Great posts on editing, Victoria!

    I did a lot of brainstorming while writing book 2, trying to keep plot threads going and see my way to book 3 of my epic fantasy series. But there was one part where a Fire Elemental had to ‘pay’ for a magic talisman. The price was never revealed and I racked my brain for days to figure out what it was. It felt important. When it finally dawned on me, I realized I had the start of book 3! I love that feeling. 🙂

    Great tips as always. Keep up the helpful advice and inspiration!

    • oh my GOSH that is AMAZING. Those kind of breakthroughs are truly the best feeling ever where writing is concerned. They are why I write 🙂 I’m so glad you shared 🙂 And I’m glad you’re enjoying the content edit series!

  15. Pingback: WRITERS: The Big Benefits of Jumping to Another Section When Editing Gets Tough | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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