Nudging the creative side

Do you ever get stuck in your story? You need a word to describe a setting or an emotion, or you want to explore options for a conflict or twist.

I use two techniques when I need to nudge my creative side: mapping and listing.

Mapping can take many different forms but I’m partial to mind mapping because of its simplicity. Sticky notes are your friend with mind mapping because you can do it anywhere and then move around ideas as you need to but honestly, pen and paper are easy as well. Start with a central idea you need to create or solve or build. Then start jotting down the first things that pop into your head. Make no judgements at this point – just write them down as a “leg” of your central idea. Envision a spider body as the central idea and its legs as each new thought.

mind mapping

As you brainstorm you may start to see connections between the thoughts, or you’ll go in a direction you never previously considered. As you build off the central idea you’ll possibly find one thought leading to another and you can find the threads of a plot.

I find listing helps me add texture to my scenes, but I’ve also used it for characterization profiles. With my scene building, I start with the general scenario. The living room. Then I start writing down everything I would expect to see in a living room, or expect to see from my living room. Can I see the kids playing out a window? Would I see into the kitchen? From there I add layers in terms of the remaining senses: touch, taste, hear, smell. Is the couch leather or cloth? Does it have a ripped cusion that scratches the back of my leg when I sit down? Is there a layer of dust that makes me sneeze or can I smell something cooking in the kitchen? Are there sirens blaring in the distance because the window is cracked open?

Diner listing

Listing also works well with creating a twist to your plot. If I know my characters are going to meet at a diner what could happen once they arrive? Some ideas are straightforward: they order lunch, the waitress drops hot coffee on a lap, there’s a kitchen fire or a robbery. But I also try and take it to to the not-so-ordinary: a portal to a new dimension opens in the ladies bathroom, a woman gives birth to an alien baby, a man turns into a werewolf-vampire hybrid.

Brainstorming works even better with more brains so try it with your critique partner.

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