By Tracy L. Carbone

Before you can sit down and write a story or essay, you need to have an idea in place. But what if you don’t?

What if your teacher tells you to write a story to pass in the next day and you don’t have a clue who the main character is, or what happens to him, or her?

That’s where BRAINSTORMING comes in. Dictonary.com defines Brainstorming as:

a sudden impulse, idea, etc. or a fit of mental confusion or excitement.

That about sums it up. When I’m stuck for ideas, I have a few tricks I use to create a story.

The first one is MY CREATIVE NOTEBOOK I read a book called Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. In it he said to carry around a notebook and write down everything you see. That sounds silly I know, but at the end of each day, you should try to write down any images you saw that struck you. For example: old man in bright white sneakers, twin girls with red hair, dog with three legs, fat man in blue sweatshirt walking dog with blue sweater, Albino woman dragging crying toddler by his wrist.

Those aren’t real examples. I just made those up but those are the kinds of things I write in my notebook. When I’m stuck for story ideas, sometimes I open that notebook and within a few minutes, I’ve discovered some wonderful writing prompts.

THE WRITER’S TOOLBOX The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan is a kit filled with writing prompts. This box is filled with Popsicle sticks containing First Sentences, Non Sequiturs (transitions) and The Last Straw. The Last Straw sticks “create a dramatic arc.” They create conflict so your story doesn’t just drag on.

The kit also contains a huge stack of Sixth Sense Cards, which each contain images. Some examples are: someone’s red leather journal, a crooked umbrella, a child with wings, a chewed on pencil. Finally, there are four wheels in the box. One for Protagonist, Goals, Action, Obstacles.

CREATIVE BLOCK by Lou Harry. This is a small book, shaped like a block. It’s filled with pictures and phrases to spark your imagination. once you get a lot of great ideas floating around in your head, what’s next?

You know how sometimes you wake up from a dream and you don’t remember exactly what happened, only that there were lot of strange images? Often that’s how a story starts. You have a lot of ideas in your mind but no plan. You can’t be quite sure what’s going to happen but you know you’ve got plenty to work with. You need to organize all those thoughts to make a plan.

And this is when I make my BRAINSTORMING MAP. I have attached a copy here. Start with a central idea or question in the middle, in a box. For example, “Four teens find a suitcase filled with money.” From there put boxes  around it for all the characters. Branching off from each character, write ideas, traits, hopes, and connections to the other characters. Remember this is all stuff you’re making up so use your imagination. Once you start writing, you’ll be surprised how quickly the page fills with ideas.

Once you have a map of ideas in front of you, then it’s a lot easier to write a story. It will almost write itself.

I hope you have a great time writing, and that these brainstorming techniques will spark your creativity! You can find links to all the books I mentioned on my website at www.tracylcarbone.com.

My book, The Soul Collector as well as several other short stories in print, and on Kindle, are available on Amazon.

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