06 July 2010

Writing Tuesdays: Brainstorming the Plot

Hello all! Today is Writing Tuesdays. No alliteration necessary. On this lovely day of the week, the Burrowers' blog will focus around the act of and the process of writing. I wanted to share something that was really successful with my students in May and June as the school year wound down. We created plays using this technique, however I believe that it can be applied to any literary work. This was taught to me by a teaching artist who performs and is co-founder of the Epic Theatre Ensemble (http://epictheatreensemble.org), James "Jim" Wallert.

This strategy is used when writing a literary work based on an actual historical event. The first thing you do when brainstorming ideas is to choose a historical event, create a title and make a list of main characters with names. During this brainstorming of characters, you can list specific personal traits or relationships that you wish your character to possess. I will use Jim's example.

Historical Event: The sinking of the Titanic April 15, 1912.
Title: Titanic
Main characters:
  • Rose Dewitt Bukater- heroine/ introverted/ upper class/ White Anglo-Saxon/ has an inhibited adventurous streak/ rejects society's rules/ loves Jack, etc.
  • Jack Dawson- protagonist/ extroverted/ adventurous/ lower-working class/ Irish/ loves Rose, etc.,
  • Cal Hockley- antagonist/ upper class/ White Anglo-Saxon/ rigid in high society ideals/ intends to marry Rose to possess her, etc.

The second thing to do is to create a simplified plot outline of the actual historical events in a story versus the storyline in your fictional play, movie, literary work, etc.

Example: Titanic (The Actual Events vs. The Movie)

Actual Events
  1. Passengers board the ship
  2. Passengers enjoy several days aboard
  3. Ship hits an iceberg
  4. Ship sinks
  5. Some survive and tell the story but most die.

Movie Events
  1. Passengers board the ship
  2. Boy meets girl
  3. Boy gets girl
  4. Boy loses girl and then gets her again
  5. Boy dies and girl lives to tell the story to others.
The idea was to merge these two lists of events to create not only a dynamic piece of literature but also a factually based work of fiction. The events can coincide in some places or List One can lead into List Two. It is completely up to the author. This can work for anything from a mystery genre to writing a script.

The third step is to begin writing. For those who tend to worry about every little detail, don't sweat the small stuff, like spelling and grammar, just yet. Many people feel that one should correct as we write, which may be a method or strategy successful to your writing. As for myself, it hinders the creative process, so I tend to do away with that until the very end. These grammatical errors can be corrected in the final step, revision and editing for the final draft.

Let me know if this method works for you. What strategies do you use when writing an outline for a new Work in Progress (WIP)?

Images courtesy of:

Editorial note: Blogger seems to be eating comments today, here and at other blogs--please don't think we've deleted anything!

Changed the comment box to separate and it seems to be working now...


Hart Johnson said...

I love this, Chary! I am not using a historic event, but with my Cozy Mystery I actually made 3 lists: the 'mystery unravel', the 'event going on in the background' and the 'relationship tensions and revelations' I want to include--it actually has made organizing a lot easier, so I love how you've applied it to historical fiction!

Hart Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cruella Collett said...

I think this is great advice too. Actually, I might have to use it myself some day!

(*crosses fingers that Blogger is letting us post again*)

Unknown said...

Thanks Ladies. I have an error message here that says blogger is eating comments.

*Murphy's Law*

Jan Morrison said...

this is a wonderful idea Chary! I'm going to tell it to my friend, Gwen, who teaches a lot of writing. I can see how it engages both the right and left side of the brain - always a winning combo! I'm not going to do it right now cuz the last thing I need is another book idea but I'm going to keep it in my back pocket for later...

Unknown said...

Jan, thanks for passing it along. It was a great strategy with my students. They created such wonderful plays based on the genocides in Darfur, Bosnia, Sudan, Iraq and Cambodia.

One story in particular was based on the Hutus and Tutsis. Very powerful because it was factually based.

Hart Johnson said...

Cool way to combine English and History, it sounds like! I never liked history in High School (though probably would have, had we been studying those topics) but writing about it would have made a ton of difference.

Unknown said...

Hart, it is so funny that you say that. I hated history also. I figured, "if it already happened and is over, why do I need to know it?" Then an amazing thing happened- I was paired with a phenomenal U.S. History teacher, Ms. Raymond, and I began to make the connections. She really helped to put everything into context for me.

CA Heaven said...

I've kind of tried that brainstorming trick, but then when I start writing, it seams to be too flat, so I do it over again ... and again. Sometimes I wonder what makes a good book? Some of the best books I've read have hardly any plot at all, not "on the surface" at least >:)

Cold As Heaven

Ella said...

Chary, I love this, thank you! Seems like a great way to get the wheel coasting; I am going to give it a whirl~ Thanks~