Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Solving Story Problems Collaboratively

I’m a big advocate for writers’ groups. I figure that drawing on the wisdom of eight brains will certainly get me further than the limited wisdom of my single brain. 

One of the things we like to do in my writers’ group, The Anita Factor, is help each other brainstorm when we have a story problem.

I’d come up with a new concept for a novel. I was pretty jazzed about the idea, but I lacked one thing—a disaster. A major one. One that would level a huge portion of a town and result in the deaths of thousands. As you can tell, I’m all giggles and butterflies over here. I was stumped as to what that disaster should be. This is where novels can become trite, where authors choose something that’s been done hundreds of times. I needed a unique disaster.

I decided to take my problem to my writers’ group. I explained the main character and the premise of the story and, for the next 20 minutes, we brainstormed. I wrote down all of their ideas, no matter how silly, unusable or ridiculous. When we were done, I had 32 disastrous ideas. None of them stood out as, “the one,” but I had pages worth of material to ruminate on.

That night, when I went to my car, still thinking on all those potential disasters, I came up with idea number 33. It was THE idea! While my group may not have come up with it, I needed to go through all of their ideas to stumble upon mine. I also have the assurance of knowing that if these highly creative people didn’t come up with my idea, then there probably are not hundreds of novels out there structured around the same disaster.

Are you a part of a writers’ group? How do you help each other? Do you brainstorm with friends or beta readers when you’re stumped? Leave a comment.

Melinda Friesen writes middle grade, young adult and new adult fiction. Learn more about her and her novel, Enslavement, at

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