Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book – Brainstorming

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, naming characters, story situations, title choices and creating characters. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together, using my next italian Billionaires book as an example.

Every fiction story, whether commercial or literary, is made up of a series of crises. These crises, sometimes referred to as dramatic events or plot points, engage readers from page one and draw them ever deeper into the narrative until they reach the climax. Careful construction and placement of the crises is what creates a “page turner” book.

Brainstorming is the practice of establishing possible crises for a book in advance. Some writers prefer to avoid this step in favor of flying by the seat of their pants so are known as “pantsers.” They claim advance plotting inhibits their creative muse. No problem; there’s definitely more than one way to write a book. However, most best-selling authors who work on strict deadlines eventually become “plotters.” Planning the dramatic events of a work in progress prevents hours of staring into space trying to decide what should happen next. It also helps avoid repetitive scenes and false trails that lead to time-consuming revision.

Established wisdom says most books of 100,000 words require a minimum of five crises to keep a story moving, plus a grand climax to bring events to a satisfactory conclusion. Books of 50,000 words, such as my Italian Billionaire stories, seem to work best with a minimum of three crises plus the climax.

Plot points in a novel, particularly in romance, need not be hugely dramatic or physical in nature. They can, instead, be emotional crises or decisions made by the characters which change the direction of the story. My own books often combine these quieter crises along with noisier ones.

With these criteria in mind, I usually sit down at my computer, open a new MS Word page, and start typing with the first brainstorming idea that springs to mind. I’ve also used pen and paper, typewriter, Dictaphone and the notes app on my tablet. The method of capturing ideas doesn’t matter as long as you make them concrete in some manner.

If nothing comes when I first sit down, I concentrate on the inciting incident for my story, that essential first meeting of hero and heroine that will set events in motion. Once that’s out of the way, I’m usually well started on the rest.

I cull nothing during this exercise. Any idea will do, no matter how trite or clichéd. The object is simply to put the brain in gear and keep it there. Setting down common occurrences gets them out of the way, clearing the subconscious mind for more creative possibilities.

Each idea gets a separate paragraph, but I impose no other order. I simply type as fast as my brain produces new material, non-stop if possible. At this point, the less left brain logic you put in the way of your creative right brain, the better.

My goal with this exercise is to produce 25 or more possible ideas, and I try not to stop until I have at least that number. More is better; there’s no such thing as too many. I go for broke, typing until my mind is blank.

Once my list is done, I choose the most exciting or original plot points and place them in approximate order of occurrence in the story. But I don’t discard the rest; no, indeed! Some may become useful secondary events, particularly if my concept of the story changes in any way. The finished list is saved in a file labeled “Story Notes” that’s included in the main story folder.

With my list of crises in hand, I have the bones of my book. Like a sculptor using an armature as the basis for a work, however, it’s merely a guide. There’s still room for infinite creativity with different ideas or in designing the setting and its atmosphere, developing the characters and their backstories, and injecting emotion into the events that will take place. For me, that’s where the fun begins.

Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.




No comments: