Annie On Writing

April 17, 2012

Basic Plot Brainstorming

Writers are inundated with tools, programs and ideas on how to brainstorm the next story or scene. Many of these are over complicated or take such a long time to learn to use or decipher that all creative juices which may have been flowing at the start, have shrivelled up in a drought of despair.

Sometimes the most insightful stories are birthed from simplicity. I’d like to share a basic plot brainstorming outline which suits both the “Pantsers” and “Plotters” amongst us. Although strictly speaking “Pantsers” prefer to dive directly into the introduction and storm through the story without many guidelines or pre planning, this simple tool can capture the flurry and passion of a story in dot format, allowing the writers mind to continue to whirl with possibilities creating as they go.

There are no gadgets or special equipment required, nor is the writer restricted to where they want to brainstorm. Choose a space that you feel conducive to your creative flow. Brainstorming notes can be captured on an ipad using scribble pad or notes, on your laptop on a wordprocessing program or my preferred medium, a scrap of paper ( usually the back of an envelope or a napkin) The more organised amongst us may have a journal or notebook specifically set aside for brainstorming. You don’t need different coloured pens – but it makes arrows easier to follow and stops the page looking like a flat bowl of spaghetti.

Separate your page into four areas.

Rule it up with pretty colours if that helps you organise yourself and satisfy those ADHD traits you have. Assign each area with one of these headings:

  • Descriptive Narrative
  • Themed Vocab/ Dialogue
  • Character Development
  • Problem

It doesn’t matter which section you start writing your ideas into. As you write one note, this will spark another which can be inserted under its heading. It doesn’t matter if you jump around putting one or two words in each space and keep repeating that pattern. The idea is to just start writing, drawing lines or arrows to connect dot points from each section and to allow the ideas to flow, without editing or making judgements about them.

Descriptive Narrative – use the senses. What are the sights, smells, tastes, feelings, textures that the character experiences in the scene? Expand these with descriptions of the setting and surroundings. These may not make it into the end product -but it will build a world for your characters to walk around in and this in turn will allow authentic interactions; not only between the characters, but between you the writer and the characters.

Themed Vocab/ Dialogue – note snippets of conversations, slang, sayings or insights which will set characters apart from the mundane. Record the things a character needs to share in order for the scene to progress – structure and niceties can come later.

Character Development Its always easy to begin with the senses to describe the character. True depth however, is revealed in the way they react, the things they do not say and the tiny movements or habits which are hinted at as the text progresses. In this area note ways in which the environment may reflect the characters emotions and desires. Use dot points for progression of characters fears, hopes and motivators. These may be matched up with a piece of dialogue or a problem.

Problem. Every story has a challenge, issue or problem for a character to overcome or face. The complexity and depth of these problems change with the length of your story If you are brainstorming a scene for a larger text/ novel, note the main problem straight away in that section. Theres no need to add to it as its the focus your characters must overcome or address in order to move through into the next scene. You may discover some intricacies as your scheme.

Expect a great deal of coloured arrows dashing around the page. What you now hold in your hand is a solid start to your next story or scene. You may choose not to use any of the imagery or dialogue you drafted; though it may have given you an insight into what your characters were thinking. It might look like a bit of a mess when you have finished, but there will be enough structured planning under headings to satisfy any ‘Plotter” and enough freedom and creativity to feed a “Pantser’s” desires.

This article first appeared on Write Anything.



  1. Excellent article!


    Comment by mypenandme — April 17, 2012 @ 9:37 am | Reply

  2. That’s a really cool, and elegantly simple way of getting started. Thanks, Annie.
    Adam B @revhappiness


    Comment by adampb — April 17, 2012 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

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