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How to Brainstorm Short Story or Novel Ideas


Brainstorm ideas for a novel or a short story by focusing on interesting traits that possible characters might have. You might use bullet points, freewriting techniques and graphic organizers to think up possible characters, plot lines, themes and settings. Don't worry about editing, correcting errors or finalizing your ideas during your brainstorming session. Brainstorming requires you to let your thoughts flow freely, so you have a strong starting point for your novel or short story.

Freewrite to Get Ideas

Write down whatever comes to your mind, also known as freewriting, for a designated time, such as 15 or 30 minutes, suggests the University of North Carolina Writing Center. Don't fix spelling mistakes or grammatical errors while you're freewriting. The goal is to write nonstop for several minutes, without trying to organize your ideas or make revisions. It's perfectly acceptable to jump from one thought to another or change your focus midstream. Set a timer, so you know when the desired time has expired. At the end of your freewriting session, read over your work to see if any thoughts, characters or plot lines spur ideas for a novel.

Make a Character List

Focus on character traits that your protagonist might have. Think of someone you know in real life who has a complex personality, an interesting back story, an intriguing job or respectable qualities -- someone who would make a strong lead character. Brainstorm a list of bullet points about your character, such as her motivations, fears, dreams, physical appearance, background and goals. Your bullet points don't need to be complete sentences -- quick descriptive phrases will do. You might even combine the character traits of several people you know to develop one primary character. Use the same brainstorming technique to create an antagonist or support characters for your story.

Create a Graphic Organizer

Create and complete a graphic organizer to help you come up with ideas for your story. Use a premade electronic template or develop your own graphic organizer on paper. For example, you might create a table with columns describing story elements, such as good characters, bad characters, problems to solve, story setting, plot, mystical qualities and facts. Or, you might create a fill-in-the-bubble flow chart that connects characters, themes and plot lines. Fill in your graphic organizer with as many brainstormed ideas as possible.

Develop "What If" Scenarios

Write or type the words "What if" at the top of your page and write down 20 scenarios that might follow those words, suggests Neil Gaiman, writer of short stories, comics and novels, on his website. You might write, "My friend got trapped in an avalanche," "My brother disappeared without a trace" or "I fell into a pit that led to an underground cave system." Try the same brainstorming technique with the words "If only" or "I wonder" at the top of your page. Brainstorming these types of scenarios might inspire ideas for a dynamic novel.

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