Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do Writers Brainstorm Better In A Group?

It's me, brainstorming. I sat with a group of writers in the kitchen, throwing ideas into the air, and bouncing names and places off the walls. I remember thinking how productive is this, really!

But for a writer, brainstorming with friends can produce massive amounts of storyline, character traits, and titles to refer to when you're pushing hard for that next book. So you've got a few thoughts rolling around in your head, but they're not going anywhere. You see a character. What is this person doing, how are they dressed, where are they in terms of time and place?

Literary Agent, Donald Maass has a unique system he uses to flesh out these characters. If you are blessed enough to take any of his classes and/or seminars, do it. It flushes out the gunk so you can think. Not to sound gross, but taking a class from Don, is like a colonic for writers.

In one particular brainstorming session, the light bulb went tilt! tilt! over my head.

When I finished Televenge, I contemplated my next novel. I love writing about the gritty south, the pretentious north. The religions of both are just as gut-wrenching, but from a totally unique viewpoint. My group threw out a few ideas and my subconscious went to work.

Over the next weeks, I knew I wanted to write a novel that included the possibility of the paranormal, spirituality from different points of view and a character-driven plot. I also knew I wanted to write in first-person, and last but not least, I wanted the story to include an animal that has fascinated me all my life—the wolf. I decided on the timeline between November 1959 until March 1960, which was a different route entirely for me. Televenge, my debut novel coming to you in October of 2012, spans thirty years, from 1972 to present day.

But for my new book, I focused on a young girl with fuzzy red hair who wore thick eyeglasses. For a while, all I had was an image of Neeley. A skinny, lonely, parentless country girl who lived on a tobacco farm. I quickly fell in love with her and needed to write her story. Placing my little red-headed white girl in the caring hands of the most opposite character, a seventy-year old African-American male, a rugged individual who wasn’t afraid of his gentle side, the novel took shape. The what-ifs began to roll, and each morning the characters revealed a little more of their story.

It wasn't long, however, and I got stuck. Back to my brainstorming group of friends.  

In a brainstorming session, bring a tape recorder, because you really can't write fast enough. Ideas and thoughts and words fly at the speed of sound. To capture it, you must record the session. But it was at that second brainstorming session that the plot began to thicken.

I contemplated the one social issue I feel strongly about. Prejudice. To me, racism is the biggest white elephant in the South. I know some southern writers have grown up under the care of an African-American woman hired by their family to cook, clean and care for them. They fondly remember her as a precious piece of their childhood inspiring them to write such books as: The Help by Kathyryn Stocket; Plantation and Sullivan’s Island by Dorothea Benton Frank; The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid, and The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin.

I wish I could say I experienced the wonderful memories of the above authors. But that is not the case. My experiences were quite different. Thus, creating a new perspective and a fresh voice.

Although my parents taught me respect for all people, I soon discovered blatant prejudice in other families around me. As a young girl, it affected me so deeply, I never forgot it. This began my quest to write a story about the evils of racism.

On January 29, 2010, The Greensboro News & Record published a special magazine dedicated to the new International Civil Rights Center and Museum, located in the old and newly restored Woolworth’s building in downtown Greensboro. In an act of courage, four black students sat peacefully at a whites-only lunch counter on February 1, 1960 and changed the world. The civil rights movement had begun. From that publication, my imagination took off once again. I wrote dialogue, paragraphs, whole scenes, and sketched it into my outline.

The area in which I lived at the time, is rich in tobacco history. Historically saturated with horse and tobacco farms, today they still dot the landscape. I also discovered James W. Cole (1924-1967) was ordained into the ministry in Summerfield, NC at the Wayside Baptist Church in 1958. He toured the Carolinas as a tent evangelist and broadcast a Sunday morning radio program, becoming an active member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and eventually the Grand Dragon of North and South Carolina. The man intrigued me. Since the story was shaping up to take place in North Carolina during that time period, writing Reverend Cole into it was a perfect fit.

As I further pondered the civil rights movement, I checked my notes from my brainstorming session and saw I had written down the word, Cherokee. I began to think of civil rights for all people, which led to the Native American plight in my story. According to my father, our family’s historian, my great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee. Listening to the pain of the Cherokee voices inside my head, I knew I had to include them.

The wolf finally appeared in the story. Wolves are about family and order. The wolf is a subtle character, but still a voice to be reckoned with. I had studied the wolf carefully, and found there were people who loved wolves enough to create sanctuaries for them. Later, I discovered a wolf sanctuary only a four-hour drive from my home. A wolf sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the town of Bakersville. We drove up the side of a mountain leading to a sign that read, The Wolf Sanctum. From that moment, I called my novel, The Sanctum.
When I pulled my outline together, I sat for one last brainstorming session with my dear friends. It didn't take long before I felt I had the inciting incident. The book is complete and hopefully, with God's blessing, it will be published.
Televenge was such a personal story, I didn't feel the need to brainstorm. But for future books, you can bet I will gather my brainstorming group together for at least three sessions per story. In addition to your research, a writer should not be afraid to ask for help.
Brainstorming. It's a writer's boost from ideas rolling around in your head, to getting it onto the page.
Try it.
Blessings to you and yours.

1 comment:

Karen S. Elliott said...

I LOVE brainstorming with other writerly types. I have even brainstormed with my son on military and weapons stuff (he's in the A.F.). He's had some amazing ideas.