Sunday, May 18, 2014



Problems in writing pop up frequently and involve everything from general plot issues to misbehaving or lackluster characters to missing pieces of crucial information. When we’re stuck, it’s handy to have a process to un-stick us. Getting enough ideas to choose the best one, is the goal. We need to get to the 7th solution.

There are key concepts involved:

  1. problem solving steps
  2. brainstorming basics
  3. seeking help
  4. brainstorming focus and freewriting

1) Problem Solving Concepts

The basic problem solving method devised at Harvard circa 1972 is the foundation for most of the models since. It’s logical:
  • define the problem specifically
  • brainstorm a list of ideas for solutions
  • walk away and come back later to evaluate the list
  • design or choose a solution to implement from the list

2) Brainstorming with green light thinking

  • lock up your inner critic
  • record all ideas whether or not they are complete, silly, improbably or possible
  • write quickly without worrying about structure or grammar
  • try a mind map

NOTE: The free flow process may feel awkward initially. It might be because your inner critic is still yelling at you from lock up. More likely it’s a matter of practice. You don’t get to be a star tennis player the first time you hold a racket, but with practice you get better. Freewriting/brainstorming is a skill. Keep at it.

3) Seeking help

Two heads are better than one and research says three to five heads are even better. But apparently three, four or five are equally good. Invite two friends and initiate a roaring brainstorm session to maximize your ideas.

4) Freewriting - brainstorming on the page. 

Freewriting can be general, a completion of the starter: I want to write a story about.... Or it may be applied to more focused issues. If using it for a narrower issue, be sure to use stage one of the problem solving model. Write down a specific problem

Here are two sample exercises suggested by romance authors from the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association.

Lorraine Paton (Contemporary Romance Author) suggests you start your list:
“Next, Suzie could do....”
Perhaps the response will be “no she’d never do that.” Record it and move on to another idea. Work it out on the page. Keep going until you hit the idea that feels right.

Suzanne Stengl (Sweet Romance Author) interviews her character “on the page.”
Ask the character what they want to do, or will do, or what happened next. Again, keep writing until you get that “let’s go” feeling. Your gut will tell you if you are on the right track.

Remember, the chances are the first three to six ideas you come up with will be ordinary even boring. But that 7th idea – it’s gold. Hang on to it. Learn to exercise your brainstorming muscle. It is one of the most valuable tools in a writer’s toolkit.

What writing tools do you use when plotting or shaking-up your story?