Brainstorming is one of the coolest parts of writing. It’s the dreaming of all kinds of possibilities, whether or not you are writing speculative fiction. It looks at the world around you and says “what if?”
At the same time, brainstorming can be a wonderfully deep and limitless bottomless pit. Edgar the Plot Bunny bears witness to my own overly-ambitious brainstorming. Every single time I write a story or plan a story, I tend to imagine all possibilities–and one story multiplies into two–or ten!
And not all of them actually make usable plots.
Naturally, as storytellers, our ability to brainstorm and dream is truly a gift. I have a couple of stories on the back-burner that might never see the light of day, yet I enjoy knowing they exist in a corner of my head.
At the same time, brainstorming should also be useful. After all, you want to tell stories and share them with the world! So here’s a simple formula to transform a brainstorm into a story that you might write in the future:
This philosophy follows the simple concept of completion. It’s the same reason public speakers and teachers will often use questions. There’s something in the human brain that automatically answers to complete the thought. We like answers. We like completion.
In a story everything is going well, until there is a Problem. Don’t think of Problem as a bad thing. It’s a Change. Something different from the reader’s normal life that they have to deal with. It can just as easily be winning the lottery as the death of a loved one. The key to the Problem is that it has to profoundly bother the protagonist, enough to set off a journey. Like sticking a grain of sand in an oyster, this Problem will force the protagonist to move ahead, to react, to do things.
Of course, they want a solution. It’s right there in the word resolution. Now, this solution doesn’t have to fix all of the problems. In fact, it can make some of them worse, especially if you’re writing a trilogy or a series. It can make the protagonist better, or it can make them far more terrible. But something has changed. Whether good or bad, there is a solution to the problem.
What this formula does is give your gem of an idea a very basic framework to play with. It can get intimidating to try and pin your beautiful butterfly of a story idea to the hard board of Plotting and Rational Thought. So don’t. Figure out a possible problem & solution and then go back to having fun with world-building and character creation.
That’s all there is to it.
Later on, you can add Freytag’s pyramid, follow the 3-Act Structure, Take Off Your Pants, or check out 5 Secrets of Story Structure to figure out all of the nuts and bolts of your story. But for now, as long as you have a problem and a solution, you’re good to go.
Whether you choose to use the brainstormed idea now, or stick it in an idea box or folder for a later date, is up to you. Maybe you’ll pull it out in the future and go in an entirely different direction. But you’ll always have that problem & solution frame that gives you a foundation for a great story.