Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Guest Author Myra McEntire: On Brainstorming
Toady I’d like to welcome Myra McEntire to the blog and get down and dirty with a little brainstorming. She has a few tricks that I use myself (the shower thing? Totally works) and a bunch of others that I might try. I like #10, especially on a Friday. And a Monday. Heck, most days. Myra’s young adult novel, Hourglass, debuts next week on June 14th, so mark your calendars, folks.
Myra McEntire knows the words to every R&B hit of the last decade, but since she lives in Nashville, the country music capital of America, her lyrical talents go sadly unappreciated. She’s chosen, instead, to channel her “mad word skills” into creating stories infused with her love of music.
Take it away Myra…
Brainstorming fuels my storytelling, and happens at every level of a story’s creation for me. Sometimes even when I’m done! (Who tweaked names and places the day before her book went to press? That’d be me.)
I’m more of a panster than a plotter. The correct plot order comes to me after the first draft is written (or after the seventh). In some ways this is frustrating, because I tend to produce a lot of words that don’t make it into the final story. In other ways it’s freeing. Once I realized and accepted that my first drafts would never be clean, I learned to open myself up to the possibilities of the mess.
The mess is most often caused by one simple question. “What if?” and “what if?” always equals a brainstorm. I’ve come to discover over the years that my brainstorming techniques are very closely related to my learning styles – which are reading/writing and auditory.
Here are a few of them:
1. Free writing, or journaling. I have to use a spiral notebook, and I have to write across the page diagonally as I’m working through the idea. No lines. However, once the idea is solid, I recap very neatly. On the lines. With a nice pen. Usually purple.
2. Plot chats. I have an amazing crit partner who will let me tell her the same plot points over and over again. Saying them out loud helps me work through any issues, and she’s the perfect sounding board. Sometimes she makes noises of acknowledgement, other times she calls out plot holes, and occasionally she’ll go off on a tangent of her own. Telling the story to someone aloud helps me learn what it’s about.
3. Watching television. Specifically, because my stories have a sci-fi bent, documentaries. I save up a stash on my DVR, and whenever I get stuck I listen to the experts (or sometimes the crackpots) dish on my chosen topic. (Last summer, it was Morgan Freeman and Through the Wormhole. I’d pretty much buy anything Morgan Freeman was selling. And I’d sacrifice numerous appendages if he’d narrate an HOURGLASS audio book.)
4. Shower. This isn’t just me, it’s been confirmed by The Twitter. I used to think it was because as a stay-at-home mom, the shower is generally the only place I’m alone. There’s something therapeutic about the water or the white noise or … I’m making stuff up. I have no good explanation; I just know it works. So much so that I bought a package of the shower crayons they sell in the kid’s bath section at Target so I could make notes without having to drip all over the bathroom floor to get to my notebook.
5. Repetitive tasks. Folding laundry. Washing dishes. Weeding the garden. Playing Diner Dash or Angry Birds on your iPhone. (See! You were looking for an excuse and now you have one! It’s WORK.) Anything that allows your brain to check out. This is why my flowerbeds are only half weeded. No really. Sometimes disengaging allows your subconscious to do the work for you.
6. Playlists. Many authors make playlists to go along with their stories, and I am no exception. I can’t always explain why I choose certain songs. If I am stuck in a scene, I’ll listen to a song that evokes the mood I’m looking for, and then I try to write to that mood. The first half of HOURGLASS is all about Billie Holiday’s In My Solitude. The second half involves a lot of modern alternative. (And you can totally tell.)
7. Wikipedia. I admit it. I love to cruise Wikipedia. I’ll look up one topic that interests me, and then bounce from article to article as my curiosity leads. Most of us know not to use Wikipedia as an official research resource, because the information can be faulty, but if you’re writing fiction? Go for it. A key plot point in HOURGLASS came from this exercise.
8. Engage in another art form. I take dance breaks. It’s true. I’m old, and it’s awkward, but for some reason dancing around my kitchen frees my thought process up. Dancing isn’t exactly brainstorming, but Jennifer Cruisie’s collages are. She posts about her process here. I also know writers who gather pictures of what their characters look like, or of settings particular to their stories. (I think this would work exceptionally well for a kinesthetic or visual learner.)
9. Story Mapping. I love to do this. It’s basic, but it’s tried and true. Here’s a link to several blank ones.
10. Nap. I’m giving you excuses to do all kinds of things, aren’t I? Those moments just before you fall asleep are RIPE for solving story problems. I suggest napping, because if you do it before bedtime, your results are harder to remember. The ideas that come might give you more energy than a nap ever would!
So there are a few of my brainstorming techniques. I’d love to see yours in the comments section!
One hour to rewrite the past . . .
For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there; swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.
So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.
Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?