Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Why I Love Brainstorming

Today my guest is author Phoebe Conn. She began her writing career with Kensington in the 1980s, when historical romances were hugely popular, twice as long as they are now, and half the price! She also wrote several contemporary books with them, and futuristic books as Phoebe Conn and as Cinnamon Burke for Leisure. Phoebe is also having a giveaway to one commenter, so make sure you read through the post.

Thank you so much, Terry, for inviting me to blog.

Whenever I say I’m a writer, I’m always asked where I get my ideas. Each book has it’s own story of how it came to be, but my June Samhain romantic suspense release, WHERE DREAMS BEGIN started with a brainstorming session with a poet. On weekends, we’d often leave Los Angeles and drive up to Santa Barbara or Ojai. Resort towns are wonderful places to sit in an outdoor cafe, relax and observe people walking by. The poet looked for intriguing characters for his poems, while I made notes of people’s quirks for possible use in my books. A waitress whose ponytail sprouted from the top of her head like a volcano, for example, appears in PARADISE, a book set in Ojai. A waiter who mumbled became a pirate whose orders were unintelligible in my futuristic romance, LADY ROGUE.

We’d also spend time generating plot ideas. The park-like setting of the University of California at Riverside is perfect for brainstorming. One afternoon, we made notes for a story beginning with the protagonist at a crossroads. She’s a young widow and can’t go back to the life she loved, but what if any choice she makes creates more trouble than she’s already in? These were such fun sessions because brainstorming has only one rule: don’t evaluate ideas, simply let them flow.

Every book needs an opening that makes an emotional connection with the reader and swiftly draws them into the story. It needs tension that builds with every word to a dramatic and satisfying finish. We brainstormed dynamite openings some days. Other days, we’d work on developing one of our openings to a full story. In one possible book, we had the hero escape the men after him in a diaper service van. It was a great scene, even if it was never used. Now few people use a diaper service, so the scene wouldn’t be as easily believed.

I’ve always loved getting out of my usual routine to brainstorm in a new place. When I was on jury duty in Pasadena, I ate my lunch in the city hall courtyard and thought what a perfect spot it would be for a story with a shy woman who lavishes attention on her garden until someone walks by and tosses a lit cigarette into her prize rose bushes. She might spray him with pesticide, whack him with a hoe, or turn the hose on him. If she lived near the courthouse, he might be an attorney or a judge on his way to an important trial. You may be thinking that’s a really silly idea, but I didn’t stop to analyze it then. I just wrote it down and it might make its way into a book someday. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t.

Brainstorming is exercise for the brain. A new location naturally brings a heightened awareness of surroundings. It also changes the people present from those you pass every day. While riding the metro rail into Los Angeles, I saw a young women with music notes tattooed on her earlobes. I’d never seen anyone tattoo their earlobes, and why quarter notes? Was her boyfriend a musician, or was she one herself? A tiny tattoo on an earlobe might work in a mystery or spy thriller where several people had a tiny piece of an important puzzle hidden in a tattoo. The possibilities are endless. Would I have thought of them had I been at home brainstorming on my patio with a cat sleeping in my lap? Probably not.

Writers need to live interesting lives to write compelling stories people want to read. Everyone needs an interesting life, don’t they? How could you change your routine? Let’s say you got up earlier and saw a neighbor you’d never met, and…. Oh well, that’s a story for another time.

As for her giveaway: Phoebe will send a pdf copy of WHERE DREAMS BEGIN to anyone who comments. Have you ever brainstormed ideas? Do you love having an excuse to go new places to think? Winner announced this weekend.

For more about Phoebe and her books, you can visit her website.


Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Great post, Phoebe! I get ideas from the strangest places. Most of them won't ever be used, but I scribble them down and keep them in my "notes" folder. When I'm feeling blocked or I need something to spark more ideas, I just dive in there. :)

Also, congrats on the release today!

Phoebe Conn said...

Thank you Anitra,

Yes! A notes folder is a wonderful idea. Great ideas can be lost if we don't jot them down when they arrive. New ideas also come when I look through the ideas I haven't had a chance to use.

Stevie Carroll said...

I'm always coming up with ideas too. I've got a spreadsheet for the short stories, and I jot the longer ideas down wherever I think I'll remember them later.

Laurin Wittig said...

My dad trained me to brainstorm early in my life. We'd people watch and take turns making up stories about where they were going, or what they might have in a briefcase, what their house might be like -- anything that sprang to mind. I still love brainstorming today. Brainstorming a new story is the freest part of the process and I find I go back to it whenever I get stuck.

Thanks for a great post!

Phoebe Conn said...

Thank you Stevie ad Laurin.

How wonderful that your father taught you how to use your imagination, Laurin. It's a skill you can use forever.

Karen said...

In the corporate world, before retiring, I loved to brainstorm with my peers; we were usually successful in finding solutions to certain types of problems with this approach.

I do carry a notebook with me at all times, not for ideas for a story (reader, not a writer), but just to remember things! No laughing - it will happen to you, too! ;D

Phoebe, I did a quick run through of your website (very pretty); like the book blurbs, so will have to go back for a deeper look.