Feeling like you’re in a creative rut when it comes to brainstorming new ideas for your next novel or short story? Have you been staring at a blank screen for fifteen minutes, struggling to come up with a fresh and unique story concept? It may be time to think outside the box, to shake up your typical way of generating new ideas by exploring different brainstorming techniques that may be foreign to you. Here are six innovative ways which may unlock your imagination and get new ideas flowing.
Time Travel – Play with Chronology
Why not try experimenting with non-linear storytelling as a different way to shake up your story? Not every narrative has to move through time in a lock-step from past to present to future. What if you started your novel with the climax and worked your way back in time to reveal how the characters reached that point? Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng used this technique to great effect, showing the aftermath of a dysfunctional family unit and then whipping us back to the beginning to show us step-by-step how their story evolved.
Keep a journal by your nightstand and jot down any particularly vivid or interesting dreams you have over the course of a few weeks. Though the elements of your dream may not make logical sense, portions of the action or even just the emotions you feel upon waking can often tap into your subconscious brain and offer unique and creative elements to add to your story. Why not involve the whole family in a game of sharing their dreams at the breakfast table? You might be amazed at the creative imagery your grade schoolers can conjure.
Random Word Generator
Do a search online for a random word generator and note down interesting or unique words. Then take ten minutes to brainstorm five different story ideas that would incorporate that word. For example, you might choose “aardvark,” which could lead to stories about a field trip to the zoo, or a safari adventure in Africa, or a boy who had a pet aardvark, or a planet where the inhabitants were aardvarks, or a Scrabble game where the underdog used the word “aardvark” to win the game. From there, let your creative brain take over and see where it takes you.
Object Association – Symbols
Objects often have strong associations or meaning far beyond their surface characteristics. A faded handkerchief may conjure up memories of your beloved grandmother; a dog collar sets loose fantasies about the puppy your parents never let you have. Choose an object in your home and see how many associations you can come up with, then write a short paragraph or flash piece about each.
Mashups – Combining Different Genres
A common technique in Hollywood is to mix two well-known genres together to form a new, unique idea. For example, my own debut was marketed as The Devil Wears Prada meets All the President’s Men, implying a mentor/mentee relationship with political intrigue elements. Pair Romance with Time Travel and you get Outlander. Mash up Comedy with Religion and voila, it’s The Life of Brian. Put slips of paper with famous movies in a hat and pull two out – what would Chinatown look like if you paired it with LaLa Land?
Brainstorm unusual or unexpected settings for your story, such as a floating island in the sky, an abandoned gold mine, or a naval base near the Arctic Circle. Use Google Maps or Instagram posts to explore different countries or environments that aren’t familiar to you and imagine setting your current story in those places instead. How would your story be different if it was set in the Old West? In Mandarin China? In Elizabethan England or modern-day Alaska?
Remember, brainstorming is all about letting your mind come out to play. It doesn’t follow rules and isn’t limited to traditional methods of storytelling. By thinking outside the box and trying unconventional approaches you can unlock new areas of your brain and unleash your subconscious in ways you’ve never dreamed of. The only rule of thumb is to have fun with it. If one technique doesn’t stimulate your thinking, move on to another. It’s all about finding what works best for you and your story and what will help capture the imagination of your potential readers.