Five Different Brainstorming Techniques for Authors

Doug Landsborough
April 20, 2023

You know your story is brewing somewhere inside you, waiting to come out. You open up a new project in Dabble, ready to write a bestseller.

And you type: It was a really, really cold day. So cold, Lisa was chilly.

Riveting, right? So you don’t write the best opening line ever. What’s the big deal? You can always fix it later—for now, it’s on to the next words.

But they never come. Writer’s block, clogged pipes, brain fart—whatever you want to call it, something is stopping your story from coming to life.

The ideas aren’t right, the words are worse, and you actually hate your characters right now.

We’ve all been there. 

Luckily, there are some things you can do to help out: establish a writing habit, read great books about writing, or try some writing exercises to kick-start your creativity.

But one of the best things you can do to get your imagination going is some good ol’ fashioned brainstorming.

If brainstorming seems daunting or you’ve had less-than-stellar success in the past, don’t fret. In this article, we’re going to look at a bunch of different brainstorming exercises, including:

  • Word vomit
  • Using bullet points
  • The Plot Grid
  • Connecting branches
  • Testing different perspectives

By the time we’re done, you’re going to have a bunch of new tools in your writing toolkit to brainstorm amazing ideas and help you write your best novel.

How to Brainstorm for Your Novel

There isn’t a right or wrong way to brainstorm a novel. Just like writing itself, whatever gets your brain working is somewhat unique to you.

That’s why I’m coming at you with a whole bunch of different ways to brainstorm. Give them a chance if they seem like they might work for you. Take what works and forget the rest!

Word Vomit

Up first is a crudely named yet incredibly effective technique called word vomiting. More well-mannered individuals than myself might also refer to it as freewriting. What can I say? I’m more about writing sassy villains than stalwart knights.

Whatever you call it, this brainstorming technique looks to lower all those inhibitions and crippling self-doubt that’s keeping your creativity on a short leash.

Word vomiting means exactly what it sounds like: you just let the words spill out onto the page/screen. Even that can be easier said than done, though, so here are some tips for freewriting:

Do it in bursts - Like nausea, creativity comes in waves. Sometimes the best way to freewrite is to set a timer for ten or fifteen minutes before taking a break. During that time, don’t stop writing. We aren’t looking for perfect; we’re just looking for words. Take a break once the timer is up, then rinse and repeat. (We also have a completely free online writing sprint tool you can use for this!)

Manuscript or outline? - Your word vomit can help for both writing your first draft and coming up with new ideas for your plot, characters, and settings. Choose what you want to brainstorm before you start, and focus your bursts on that.

Don’t worry - What you come up with while word vomiting isn’t meant to produce flawless work. You’re going to need to revise your work, likely more than what you produce during a normal writing session. But the whole point of word vomit is to get you writing so your momentum can carry you through to the good stuff.

Bullet Points

Another useful brainstorming technique is using bullet points. This method is great for writers who prefer a more structured approach to generating ideas. Instead of free-flowing sentences, you create a list of bullet points outlining your story’s plot, characters, and setting.

Bullet points allow you to focus on the key elements of your story without worrying about the details. You can start with a basic outline and add more details as you go along. This method is also useful for breaking down complex ideas into manageable pieces.

When using bullet points to brainstorm, it’s important to remember that the goal is to generate ideas, not to create a polished draft. The purpose of this exercise is to get your creative juices flowing, so don’t worry too much about the order or structure of your bullet points. You can always refine and organize them later.

Here are some tips for using bullet points in your brainstorming process.

Keep it simple - Don’t worry about making your bullet points look perfect or follow a specific format. The point is to get your ideas down quickly and in a way that’s easy to read and understand. You can always go back and reorganize or expand on them later.

Focus on quantity - When using bullet points to brainstorm, you want to generate as many ideas as possible. Don’t worry about whether they’re good or bad, just get them down on paper. This will help you see the bigger picture of your story and give you plenty of material to work with when it’s time to start writing.

Group your ideas - Once you have a long list of bullet points, start looking for patterns or connections between them. Grouping similar ideas together can help you identify themes or subplots in your story and can also help you see where you might need to fill in gaps or add more detail.

One thing I love about using bullet points is that it can be a helpful technique for both plotters and pantsers. Plotters can use bullet points to create a detailed outline of their story, while pantsers can use them to generate new ideas and keep track of their thoughts as they write.

Plot Grid

One of the most powerful tools available to writers is built right into Dabble: The Plot Grid.

The Plot Grid is a versatile, fully integrated part of Dabble that lets you manage subplots and relevant notes that attach directly to each scene in your manuscript.

But how can you use this awesome tool to brainstorm? I’m glad you asked.

While having your notes automatically integrate with your scenes is nice, the real brainstorming benefit of the Plot Grid is its visual representation. Since everything other than your written paragraphs are drag-and-droppable in Dabble, the Plot Grid lets you experiment with a lot of “What If?” scenarios.

What if I put this scene in the haunted house instead of the school? What if the meet cute actually took place a chapter later in the story? What if a pivotal scene was actually about the antagonist instead of the hero?

Here are a few tips for using the Plot Grid to brainstorm your writing.

Visual changes inspire plot changes - Even if the changes don’t stick, simply moving pieces of your story around can inspire creative changes in your plot. Some of those changes could even come from moving parts of entirely different sections around.

Create copies - It’s as easy as clicking the three dots beside your Plot Grid in the nav menu and choosing “Copy Plot Grid.” This lets you mess around with an identical version of your Plot Grid without fear of ruining what you have.

Unlimited flexibility - Though the columns of the Plot Grid are most often used for subplots, you can really use them for anything. I use columns for settings, POV, romantic interests, character arcs, red herrings, and more. You have the same flexibility to drag and drop in these columns as if they were for subplots. So go wild and see what inspires you!

Connecting Branches

Another powerful visual brainstorming technique is connecting branches. This method involves making connections between different elements of your story to create a cohesive and compelling narrative.

To use this technique, start by identifying the different elements of your story, including scenes, characters, and settings. Then, connect these elements by thinking about how they relate to each other. For example, you can connect scenes by actions and reactions, characters by relationships and conflicts, and settings by events and meaning to characters.

By connecting these different parts, you can create a more complex and nuanced story that engages your readers and keeps them invested in your characters and plot. This technique is especially useful for writers who want to create intricate plots with multiple subplots and characters.

When using connecting branches to brainstorm, it’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to explore different possibilities. Don’t be afraid to make connections that may seem unconventional or unexpected. These connections may lead to surprising plot twists and character developments that make your story more memorable.

Now, let’s move on to three tips for using connecting branches in your brainstorming process.

Experiment with different types of connections - There are many ways to connect the different elements of your story using branches. You can connect characters by their relationships or conflicts, settings by their relevance to the characters, or scenes by their actions and reactions. Try experimenting with different types of connections and see what works best for your story. You might find that one type of connection works better than another or that a combination of different types of connections is most effective.

Use visual aids - Connecting branches can be a visual way to help you see how different elements of your story are related. Use different colors or shapes for different types of connections to make them easier to distinguish. You can use software tools like MindNode or draw them by hand on a piece of paper. Whatever works best for you, make sure to keep your connections organized and easy to understand.

Keep revising - Connecting branches can be a useful tool for brainstorming and outlining your story, but don’t be afraid to revise and change them as your story develops. As you write and revise your story, you may find that some connections no longer make sense or that you need to add new ones. Don’t be afraid to make changes and adjust your connecting branches as needed to ensure that they accurately reflect your story.

Test Perspectives

Finally, we come to one of my favorite ways to brainstorm your current scene: test it from different perspectives. I am obsessed with writing from multiple perspectives; I think it adds so much depth to both the story and the characters.

When a scene just isn’t clicking or having the effect you want, that’s where this brainstorming method comes in. By writing the same scene from different character viewpoints, you can explore different angles and gain new insights into the story.

To start testing perspectives, choose a scene that you’re having trouble with. It can be a pivotal moment in the plot or a minor interaction between characters. Then, rewrite the scene from the perspective of a different character. You might be surprised at how much this changes the tone and impact of the scene.

When testing perspectives, it’s important to remember that every character has their own unique worldview and experiences. So try to get into the mindset of the character you’re writing from. What are their motivations? How do they perceive the other characters? What emotions are they feeling?

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of testing perspectives:

Choose characters strategically - Don’t just choose any character to write from their perspective. Choose characters that will provide a unique insight into the scene. For example, if you’re writing a scene about a breakup, you might write it from the perspective of both people involved or from the perspective of a close friend or family member.

Pay attention to details - When writing from a different character’s perspective, pay attention to the details that might be important to them. What do they notice that your main character might not? How do they interpret certain actions or words? By focusing on these details, you can add depth and complexity to your scene.

Compare and contrast - After you’ve written the scene from different perspectives, compare them side by side. How are they similar? How are they different? What insights did you gain from each one? By comparing and contrasting, you can choose the best perspective to move forward with and create a more nuanced and powerful scene.

Write Your Best Book

No matter which method you choose, brainstorming is just one part of the novel-writing process. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back for every step of the journey.

To boost your writing knowledge, check out the hundreds of free articles we have on DabbleU. Become an expert on characters, conflict, genre, and everything you need to write your best book.

For a step-by-step guide to writing your first draft, download our free, 100+ page e-book, Let’s Write a Book right here. No strings attached.

You don’t need to do this alone, either. Head on over to the Story Craft Café, an online community of writers who are there to share your writing journey with you.

And finally, harness the power of a writing tool made for fiction writers, by fiction writers. You can try all of Dabble’s premium features, including the mighty Plot Grid, for free for 14 days. You don’t even need to enter your credit card number to get started, you just need to click here.

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.