Brainstorming and Creativity for Kids

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.

On Getting Story Ideas

by Tracy L. Carbone

One of the most common questions I am asked as a writer is where I get my ideas from. The honest answer to that would be something like, “How do I stop the ideas from coming?” The thing about being a writer is that each thing you encounter, even the most mundane, can spark an idea to file and use later. Above, I found a smiley face in a bread stick. Writing prompts are all around.

To make sure I don’t miss any opportunities, I follow the advice of Ray Bradbury in his book, Zen in the Art of Writing.

At the end of each day I try to write down anything even remotely interesting that I’ve seen. It’s not a diary per se, but a list of images. For example, I might jot down,  “lady yelling at kid in store, street musician in Fanueil Hall, melted chocolate on seat, almost getting in a car accident.” Sometimes it’s months or years before I flip through the ideas in the book and use them but they’re always there, waiting their turn.

Street names are another great trigger for creativity.  When I’m driving, if I’ve got a passenger who can type for me, I use the note function on my phone to write down streets names or important things to burn into memory.  My  daughter and  I recently completed a very long drive through Canada and northern Maine. That area is rife with images. Here are “phone notes” from the drive to give you an example. “Crawford Bible Fellowship, Lord’s Point, Hardscrabble Farm, Big red building with small brown barn, buildings boarded up, devil faces on telephone poles, Harm’s Way.”

Add to that some pictures I took along the way and the story can almost write itself. I look at the pictures below, recall the memories, and it’s a walk in the park if you toss in a little creativity.

But what about when it doesn’t seem there are any interesting things to write about? Well, I highly recommend this little gem of a book. It’s called Creative Block by Lou Harry. It’s got short phrases and photos to jolt you into making a mental image and hopefully a story. It’s surprisingly helpful for such a small book.

Once you’ve got burning ideas, just start typing, or hand writing if that’s your preference. Before you know it, you’ll have a nice little draft of a story, or a great scene in a book.

Happy writing!

Tracy L. Carbone ,  is the author of The Man of Mystery Hill, a middle grade paranormal mystery, published by Echelon Press. Buy now on BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon or in many fine bookstores.

Follow Tracy on TWITTER for continual updates.