Brainstorming Rocks

Alex and half the rest of Murderati are in Baltimore at Bouchercon this weekend – we’ll all report back next week!

So please welcome today’s guest Blogger – T. Lynn Ocean


Some people try to get inside the heads of others because it’s what they do for a living. Psychiatrists, character actors, and hostage negotiators are a few examples. Me? I enjoy getting inside someone else’s head for research. I’m not talking about the generic emailed interview or even a face-to-face Q&A over lunch. What I’m referring to is brainstorming. Think cerebral orgy. Brainstorming with intelligent people is one of the most fun activities you can do with clothes intact! Imagine a game of Truth or Dare combined with Balderdash.

A down-and-dirty brainstorming session is good for any type of problem-solving, but since this is a Murderati blog, let’s say that you’re in the process of creating a character. She’s an elementary school teacher. Her plan is to kill the owner of a nearby dry cleaners, but she wishes to stay out of jail afterward. This simple setup can be the core of an hour-long brainstorming session that starts like this: If you were the teacher, how would YOU do it?

You can brainstorm with your spouse, friends and even strangers. If you’ve gathered the right type of open-minded and fun people, you’ll most likely walk away with several ideas on how the teacher can murder the business owner. One of the ideas just might be fresh, fabulous, and a perfect fit for your plot. If you decide to give brainstorming a try, choose your topic, have a notepad handy, and follow THE RULES:

First, anything goes. Second, no criticism is allowed.

The ‘anything goes’ rule is just as it sounds. Maybe the teacher isn’t a teacher at all. Maybe she doesn’t have a degree and she faked her resume. Maybe she is really a former pest control technician. And maybe the dry cleaners is experimenting with a new environmentally friendly cleaning solvent. Maybe there is a giant pothole in the road and a hubcap from a passing pickup truck knocked a vial of the solvent into a nearby Bloody Mary, and it turns out that the solvent is toxic when mixed with tomato juice.

What does any of this have to do with your main plot? Maybe nothing. But then again… the nature of brainstorming is that one idea fuels another, and that idea fuels another, and so on. It doesn’t matter if somebody verbalizes a thought that is wacky, tacky or totally unrealistic because someone else will take that cerebral stimulation and run with it. You’ll be surprised at the morsels that can turn up in a brainstorming session.

As for rule number two, no criticism, that one is simple. There is nothing that will bring a creative sharing of ideas to a screeching halt more quickly than a negative person spouting, “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Or, “that would never happen.”

So the next time you’re working on a plot, planning a big event, or solving a problem at work—find some willing people, have a great time, and remember the rules.

Anything goes. No criticism allowed. Oh, yeah and one final thought. You might want to be careful where you have a brainstorming session, especially if you’re plotting ways to get away with murder.

7 thoughts on “Brainstorming Rocks

  1. MF Makichen

    Hey Lynn,Thanks for filling in while the rest of the gang is traveling. It’s a great reminder to think outside of the box when creating characters. I love your rules too!

  2. Tom

    Two acquaintances failed to observe your last rule – the one about “Location, location, location.” They were working on plot points involving gun running and mayhem when they realized all the other customers in the restaurant had moved far, far away.

  3. Jake Nantz

    See, depending on the mood I’m in, I think the brainstorming session might just be a lot more fun if it IS in a public place! Thanks for sitting in with those of us forlorn because we aren’t at B’con.

  4. toni mcgee causey

    Lynn, it’s great having you here today — and I am cracking up over the location rule. I’ve made that mistake myself, completely forgetting where my friends and I were and that other people maybe wouldn’t understand that the people over in the corner getting all excited about bombs and detonators were harmless writers.

  5. JT Ellison

    Hi Lynn, good to have you here on Murderati!

    I love brainstorming characters, and I especially love going to back to them years later and seeing my notes about who I thought they were. I usually deviate wildly from my original ideas. Hmm…

  6. Fran

    Brainstorming is GREAT fun, and I’ve found that it’s important to write down ALL the ideas, because they may grow and transmutate into something else in another story. Or they may springboard an even better story somewhere.

    Besides, a good brainstorming session will have at least one person snorting something out their nose, and that’s not an opportunity to be missed, in my opinion!

  7. T. Lynn Ocean

    Fellow Brainstormers: Thanks for the feedback and comments on my guest blog! I, too, am disappointed that I was unable to make Bouchercon but I’ll be there next year. And I’m laughing at location comments…what the heck. DO IT IN PUBLIC 🙂

    Cheers, T. Lynn


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