Sunday, May 24, 2009


Every few months I meet a friend for lunch, and, over sandwiches and multiple cups of coffee, we discuss our works-in-progress and the vicissitudes of this crazy writing life.

Each of us works alone, so it’s good to brainstorm a bit, offering encouragement to each other in the way that only other writers can provide support for one another when they step away from their desks for a few hours.

At our last lunch a couple of days ago, my friend was kind enough to give me a book on writing that he highly recommended, and which he has used to help him with his own work, called Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer by James V. Smith, Jr.

Smith has written other craft books (You Can Write a Novel), as well as the Force Recon series and a handful of psychological thrillers, and he has more than a firm grasp of the numerous steps a writer must take in order to make it through the long and inevitably cumbersome process of writing a novel.

At times, I must admit, Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer reads almost like an engineering manual, a rule book of sorts, rather than an inspiring writing guide to help writers transform their prose into song.

But once you get past the somewhat unwieldy style and sheer volume of information, you’ll find an abundance of helpful advice to use as you navigate the tricky shoals and currents in your own stories.

Here’s an example of Smith’s recommendation for brainstorming scenes:
Assuming that you’ve sketched an outline for your story, either in the ten-scene format or some other system, here’s my suggestion.

The Brainstormer’s Plan of Attack for Writing Scenes

Tell what happens in the scene. Identify the action, players and setting.
State the purpose of the scene, which ought to help you...
Identify the type of scene you’ll write: master, major, minor or narration
Identify a singular element to highlight: action, conflict, imagery or dialogue.
Write the scene according to an appropriate action-suspense profile that seems logical to you. In the writing of it, exaggerate the high points of that profile.
Evaluate the scene according to one or more systems.

And now a discussion of each step, using a device I’ve invented just for this purpose–the Brainstormer’s Scene Card.


Answer these questions in the corresponding space on the card:
  • What will happen in this scene?
  • Why will it happen?
  • What earlier event caused this scene to happen?
  • Whose motives drive the scene?
  • Whose motives will those motives come into conflict with?
  • Which characters will play out this scene?
  • What happens to each of them in the end?
  • In what ways do they interact?
  • Who is helped and harmed by the outcome?
  • Who learned what lessons in this scene?
  • Because of this outcome, what consequences will be felt later in the story?
  • How does this scene point to the climactic moment of the story?
  • What was the element of oh, wow! in this scene?
  • What detail in this scene ties back to an earlier scene?
  • What detail in this scene comes into play in a later scene?
Smith clearly thinks through the steps required to write his novels as thoroughly as possible, and I suspect you'll find much that you can glean from his insights into novel writing.

Visit these sites for more info:

PS - Many thanks, Chuck, for sharing your discoveries with us.

1 comment:

laurasalas said...

I'm totally a list/chart kind of person. I have a really rough draft of a novel in need of tons of revision, and this sounds like it might be just the ticket for me to help me analyze what I've got and figure out what I need to write now.

Going to check this out--thanks!