Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Creativity: round robin brainstorming can lead to strong writing

Talking the story into life
Partner and group brainstorming: I use this technique in my creative writing class. We gather around the table and discuss ideas. After we settle on one, I step back and write down each plot point or character decision as they work through them and build a consensus.

Now and then I read through what they have so far, and then the group is off again revamping, adding, changing.  Epiphanies fly about their heads, like those crazy fireworks you set on the ground and dodge as they zip off in random directions.  My students ram through half-baked thoughts as quickly as their mouths can speak them, making connections and changes to enhance emerging motifs.  And each student adds more flame and fires-up another idea.

That's brainstorming for strong writing.  That is the achievement of more than one mind reaching for development, precision, cohesion. I love those moments because they don't just make for great writing, they make for the truly creative moment. If you have ever been a runner or done any kind of exercise that demands individual focus for more than half an hour, you may have felt the sensation that makes you feel as if you could go on running forever; the pace is perfect, the weather, the degree of breathing.

You float along without really feeling your feet hit ground or the sensation of running at all, almost an out of body experience. Time seems to stands still.  When two or more people are on the same run through an idea, it's like that glorious running experience.  It feels as if you could create forever and you do not want to stop.

Very recently, just this past weekend, I felt like that.  I shared an idea I have been mulling over for a few months.  Soon my writer pal, Marcy Peska, and I were digging into the characters, their concerns, histories, families, questions, possibilities and my idea took on more life, seemed to breath a few halting breaths each time Marcy or I sent off another email between us.  The characters that had been slipping into my creative moments stopped being just skin deep. 

Sharing with Marcy and gleaning tidbits from her knowledge and experience made for development I would have taken much longer to come around to by myself.  What I love most about brainstorming with Marcy is that her questions are framed so that my characters are real people.  "Does Joan have Alzheimer's in her family?"  Now I have to sit down with Joan and find out about her family history and for very good reason.  Colleen in a matter of seconds became even stronger because she is the type of person Marcy likes.  That alone added considerable depth to what was already a strong-minded woman.

Brainstorming with another writer or an interested friend is my kind of idea development. I am sure many of you use this same process. Is it a major factor in your process?  What others benefit idea development?

+Marcy Peska

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