Friday, October 31, 2014

Brainstorming with Jenny Lundquist

Shannon here. I'm so excited to introduce you guys to YA and Middle Grade author, Jenny Lundquist. Her newest book, The Opal Crown, came out this week and you so want to read it. Trust me. Jenny and I met just before we each signed with our respective agents and we've stuck together through the ups and downs of our publishing journeys. EVERYONE should have a writer pal like her. Now, listen up. She's crazy smart. AND we're giving away a signed set of The Princess in the Opal Mask and its follow up, The Opal Crown.

Jenny Lundquist grew up in Huntington Beach, California, wearing glasses and wishing they had magic powers. They didn't, but they did help her earn a degree in intercultural studies at Biola University. Jenny has painted an orphanage in Mexico, taught English at a university in Russia, and hopes one day to write a book at a café in Paris. Jenny and her husband live in northern California with their two sons and Rambo, the world's whiniest cat.


One of my favorite parts of writing a novel is that early, daydreaming stage where your idea is little more than a wisp of dialogue here, a tendril of internal monologue there. Long before I sit down to write my first chapter, I spend a decent amount of time dreaming and brainstorming. And for me, that requires three things: Color, Coffee, and Great Atmosphere.

Sitting down at my computer reminds me too much of school assignments and business projects, and it prevents me from accessing that more emotional, daydreaming place inside of me. So oftentimes I need to create an atmosphere that looks something like this:




I spend a lot of time writing down my ideas and thoughts, usually into a Moleskine journal. Once I think I have enough to start a story, I start plotting scenes. Colored index cards are a life-saver for me, as I need to be able to “see” how each story thread is playing out. For middle grade projects, I tend to have a color assigned to the different locales that my character is spending time in. In fact, this is what my storyboard looks like for a middle grade project I’m currently working on:



(Pink is for school; yellow is for home; green is for extra-curricular activities, etc. The empty spaces are where I think my two boys thought it would be funny to steal a couple of the cards.)

In The Opal Crown, and for the entire Opal Mask series, I really needed to be able to see if I was giving Elara and Wilha, my two main characters, equal time for their story to develop. So I assigned them different card colors (green for Elara, purple for Wilha), as a visual illustration of how their scenes/chapters were playing out, so I could make any alterations, if need be.




The above photo shows early on when I was plotting The Opal Mask series, and starts at the beginning of the series, from the first scenes in The Princess in the Opal Mask, to the very ending scenes in The Opal Crown. The middle, you’ll notice, was largely blank, as that’s the hardest part of a story for me to write.

I realize there are apps and computer programs that can generate online corkboards, but again, I needed something less business-like and more sensory-based to access that place inside of me where my stories come from.

I think the key to brainstorming novels is to find a creative process that works for you and embrace it, no matter how strange that might look to others. Don’t be afraid to find yours!

What about you? How do you brainstorm your ideas and stories?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

49 comments:

  1. I'm more of a pantser, actually, and to me ideas just don't come if I sit down and try plotting of any kind. As a result I get stuck in my stories many times and have to give up or come back to them later ):. The ONLY way for me to know where the story is going is to just plot it out in my head, and then when I'm lacking on ideas or am stuck, just *write*. Sometimes I put myself in the shoes of my character when I'm stuck, and that's something I've gotten quite good at. I never start a story without deep characters whom I understand. Without them the story just feels hollow. I'm writing, or more like starting a book, The Assassin's Mercy, which I wrote the first three or four chapters of a little less than a year ago. Doing a complete rewrite with character development and changes, new antagonists and plot changes. But the MC is really, more or less, the same. So I'm really familiar with all the characters, and the plot, and things are relatively easier. :)
    Thanks for the post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same here! I find it really, really hard to sit down and plan things out, haha.

      Delete
  2. I like a light outline, so I guess you could say I'm a plantster. There has to be some room for creativity, but I like to know where I'm going when I start. BTW, I love your creative space in the first pic. :) Thanks for posting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too! Love the working space.

      Delete
  3. I brainstorm by living. Everything I do has some sort of merit in my story. I've even gotten an inspiration from a preschool movie, because I have the ability to take things out of context and put them into a different perspective.
    I'll give you an example. In this preschool movie, the beaver was trying to chop down his first tree, but when he tried he almost shmashed his parents and friends. He tried several more times but couldn't get it. And finally, he tried one last time and everyone was begging him not to do it, because they were afraid of getting smashed.
    And I thought, what if there was a character, and she had always failed at this one certain thing and no one believed that she could accomplish it. When lives depended on her succeeding, everyone was begging her not to do it because they were afraid of losing their lives. But the character had to try again. And this time she succeeded. See how that works?
    I also brainstorm with my sisters. We share a room and so at night time, when we're supposed to be sleeping *cough* we brainstorm. A lot of the ideas are totally out there (i.e. She gets run over by a bus!), but some of them you can draw out nuggets of ideas.
    I feel like whenever I write a story it's basically an outline for a future rewrite, like I'm getting the basic structure, plot line, dialogue, etc down and then I can elaborate later.
    Well, this is turning out super long, so I'll stop gabbing. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting thoughts, Hannah! My inspiration comes from the weirdest places, from cutting defrosted chicken, to washing dishes, to closing the door and turning off the light just before bed. I am not supposed to be embarrassed about the practices that enhance my writing, but I am rather shy about a number of others that I won't mention here, but you understand...

      I wish I could brainstorm with my sisters... My one older one does not share my interests!...

      Delete
    2. I get a lot of inspiration when I'm washing dishes or cleaning toilets, too! Also, going to see symphonies and concerts, I like to bring a notebook.

      Delete
    3. That's interesting, Hannah! Apply the basic, core story behind the inspiration and turn it into a completely different story. I've thought about doing that before but have never really tried it. (I thought about borrowing plots from Bible characters, too...)

      And about the sisters, yeah, I do that sometimes. LOL The middle sister tends to run away with my ideas and not stop talking though so I end up saying "But--wait--that's nice but--WAAAAIT it doesn't go with my story!" Haha. :)

      Delete
    4. Amanda Fischer, I can totally relate. My sisters do that as well, but I can often (not always) extract some sort of truth out of it. I can get inspiration everywhere. I've always thought that the Bible has an amazing plot. One of God's top angels rebels and betrays him turning one third of heaven away from God and then they're in a battle, the rebel angel trying to build a kingdom to take over God's. And all these different micro-stories in between. And because there's no way God can stand sin, and he loves people, he sends his son to sacrifice for his people. Seriously, I know all you knew this, but God's a genius:)

      Delete
  4. I always go running when I need inspiration. When I'm not thinking about it, ideas just pop up. I've never used cards for brainstorming, but it could be useful in a later work.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I do a lot of thinking and daydreaming and sometimes role playing on the idea, then I scribble all the stray ideas in a notebook. Then I usually make a Pinterest board so I can see it all together.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I tend to do a lot of brainstorming, then I jump into writing. I usually pull out the colored pens and multi-color notecards for revising, but not for the first draft. When I set out to revise my last first draft, I did the same thing with giving each of my two POV characters a different color so I could see if I gave each of them equal time...which I didn't. I went back and did a lot of revision because the visual of the notecards showed me that one character hogged a bunch of the scenes!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I plotted my basic storyworld, plot line, and characters for my WIP in my writer's notebook and on my laptop. Then I created a chapter outline and more I work from it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I write fantasy, so when I brainstorm I usually build the story world first, since my stories usually come with an idea for a world first. Then when I come to plot I work on little bits at a time, in the order I think of something. It's kind of hard to explain, but I just sort of jump around looking at what I need and work out how to do it. Gaah it's hard to be eloquent about the way my brain works.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My brainstorming is driven by the question "what if." I almost never write anything down, but I'll start with one what if - say, "What if a girl found her best friend from seven years ago, and he hasn't aged a day since they last saw each other?" and then I'll build onto it with "Maybe he had been trapped in their imaginary world that they had somehow been able to bring to life," and then I'll raise it one more with the "What if he was her imaginary friend, but she couldn't remember even having an imagination?"

    I rarely write it down, because I'm more of a visual brainstormer, and I'm not an artist. I bounce from idea to idea with lightning speed, pausing only to extrapolate a what if into a potential scene to see if it would work. Sometimes I'll take a scene or idea to my mother and talk it out with her.

    So far, this method has served me through the creation of several novels, so I'm not complaining.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Very timely post for me. Thank-you for sharing with us! :)
    I do my earliest brainstorming with a Word doc in front of me. If I think an idea has potential and am ready to develop a plot, I switch to notebooks. I would love to try the cork-board technique but... no room and no cork-board. ;D Maybe someday!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Love the colored notecard idea. I use Scrivener to write, but I might adopt that idea as I write this next NaNo novel.

    ReplyDelete
  12. How I brain storm... Well, I may need to draw something that is in my story world or I read or watch a movie. Picking my imagination up off the floor and using it. Or I can simply sink into my own deep thoughts and come out again with a whole new idea. :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. I generally plan out my entire novels, but for this novel, I got stuck after planning the first part. Oh well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, I do that too. Keep pushing through with it, though. I always have to write a bunch of boring scenes before I get a good story. You can always look at them later. You have no idea how many writer's blocks I've had.

      Delete
  14. I'm not good at outlines or brainstorming. I'm NOT organized so I don't know what to do. I usually become so lost I give up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't give up! :) You don't have to make a fancy outline or anything. Just a simple one will do to help you figure out where you want your story to go. There's a really good post with outline templates here: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/03/story-brainstorming-sheets-for-download.html

      Hope that helps!

      Delete
    2. Thanks Linea. These sheets may help!

      Delete
  15. I brainstorm by talking to myself in a British accent... either just talking about it and asking myself questions about it. :p

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, yes, the British accent is completely necessary ... even if the characters have never even heard of Great Britain!

      Delete
    2. Seriously, Emily?! I can hardly believe it; I DO THE EXACT SAME THING!!

      Delete
  16. My story ideas usually start as about a paragraph of concept. Sometimes it will read more like a back cover teaser; sometimes it's nothing more than a character and a concept. It depends on how it appears in my brain. Many of my ideas are in this state, written down in a notebook or in my "Story Ideas" document on my computer, and I haven't developed them any further. For the ones I have begun to the develop, I usually dump everything that I've thought of about this story into one document (or notebook page, sometimes, though I like to have a document copy). This can be everything from a possible opening line to character descriptions to basic plot structure, etc. If it's come to my brain in reference to this story, it goes in there. From that point on, my process is still in development. For my current WIP and my last draft, I went from there to outlining and then to writing. I like to handwrite a lot of it, though, for similar reasons to you, I think, Jenny - sometimes the computer feels too confining for brainstorming.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This post is perfect, because I'm actually brainstorming for a novel right now! Basically, I take a notebook and a pen and write and draw everything out: my characters, the plot, the storyworld, etc. I love this aspect of writing because it's incredibly creative and it's so fun to see everything laid out.

    ReplyDelete
  18. My stories come to me at random times, I either write them down in a note book or on a photo that is part of my story on pinterest. Then I use pinterest to story board it is so helpful!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I always brainstorm better when I'm working with other people. Or when I'm trying to fall asleep.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I like to start by making the type of character I would enjoy getting to know. Once I find a character I really love, stories begin to form around them. Otherwise, browsing through cool pics or listening to music sends little burst of creativity and great story ideas my way.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I do a lot of my brainstorming house cleaning :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Usually, as soon as I get an idea for a character or general plot, I write it down and try to expand it using a variety of "What If?" statements. Then, using the Snowflake Method, an abused notebook, and a new project in Scrivener, I try my best to expand my scribbling into something I can write about.

    It's a labor intensive planning process, but it works for me, and I have a lot of fun doing it. :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hey all! I thought I'd just pipe in. Jenny's book launch for THE OPAL CROWN is in just a few hours, so she's been swamped prepping for that. I can't wait to head over and pick up the books for the winners. I love reading about how you all write though. It's eye-opening. Have a lovely Saturday, everyone, and I'll be back here next Friday to chat more and announce the winner of this giveaway!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Great post! My ideas usually come to me at random times. Unfortunately I usually forget to write them down and then forget them altogether.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am always afraid of that happening. I never leave the house without a pen. It's more of a hassle to bring a notebook around, so I just write on my palm. :) It really works! You should try it. And at home keep a pen in every room. (Including out in the yard, excluding the bathroom.)

      Delete
  25. What a great way to brainstorm, and I love the color coordinated story location board! I'm going to have to try that some time. (-:

    ReplyDelete
  26. All my ideas go into a notebook with questions next to them and little notes where I have to do research for spots I don't fully know how I'll explain. I usually start a story knowing what will happen at the end but the beginning is a blank. There seems to be a fine line between drawing a reader into your character and overloading them with back story and generally too much information.

    I use colored construction paper to create my characters history. Your organized notes make me want to get my own cork board :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. This was fascinating and quite helpful! With my own brainstorming I try not to over-think; simply because I don't want to undue influence to the natural unfolding of the percolations in my brain. After I have the essence of the tale, I get down to Proper Brainstorming which entails making notes and sketching brief outlines and thinking a great deal.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Cool post!
    I've never been that organized with brainstorming, though. I just kind of... do it. Sit at my computer or grab a notebook and jot down whatever ideas come to mind. But maybe, at some point, I'll try something like this.


    Alexa S. Winters
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  29. It would hard for me to decide what part if writing is my favorite... Thanks for stopping by and for the giveaway! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  30. My computer just did something weird, so I apologize if I end up double-posting. My brainstorming tends to be internal, but I might try that technique. I never got on with actual brainstorming programs.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I brainstorm by messaging a writer friend and trying to work things out in my story. Sometimes I just write, asking questions in a separate document in hopes that it will spark some ideas. :)

    ReplyDelete
  32. Is the cat named Rambo after the guy in the old movie?

    ReplyDelete
  33. To be honest, I'm more of a "pantser". I tried planning and outlining and all that stuff...but, it doesn't really work out for me. However, I have a folder on my computer with a document inside in which I keep my story ideas. I like to write down a blurb about my story idea, then I'll jump in and write my story. :) I like that color coordination method, though. Pretty cool!

    ReplyDelete

Home