6 brainstorming (ahem… plotting) techniques that even work for pantsers

Written by Claire L. Fishback, PMP

Book Coach & Story Strategist

October 24, 2023

In this post, you’ll learn 6 brainstorming techniques that even work for pansters! This is a bonus post that follows along after the NaNoPrep series (essentially, the last four posts on the blog, also listed in this post if you missed ’em).

If you’ve been around here, you know I’m a proud Pantser. At least… I used to be. And yes, I still “pants” the hell out of the short stories I write for my Horror and More-er fans.

Before I get into these brainstorming techniques, I have to tell you two things.

  1. I’m calling these brainstorming techniques, but as you dig into them, you’ll see they are for plotting (#sorrynotsorry). I am a pantser. These techniques work even for me. At a minimum, doing the first one will help you tremendously in getting your thoughts organized. From there, you can decide if you want to keep going.
  2. I have learned so much on my path to becoming an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach (I’m still in-training, but hope to have all of the requirements for certification completed by the end of December 2023. Fingers crossed). The brainstorming technique #6 is one I find personally the most helpful. It can also be used to figure out if your finished story has any holes in it.

I compiled these techniques from various sources because they work for me and my Pantser Soul. I hope they help you, too. Let’s get into it!

Now that you have your driving force, your story’s soul, and the characters to deliver it and disprove it (opposing force), it’s time to start thinking about what actually happens in your book.

If you are a plot first kind of person, you may already have scenes in mind. If you are a character first kind of person, you may not.

By doing the previous steps of this short series, you probably had some ideas come up for scenes.

The Brainstorming Techniques

#1: The big fat sloppy brain dump

The first step in finding the actual story is to brain dump everything you already know, then organize it using the following techniques, which can be used alone, or in order as a step by step way to develop your plot.

Always keep your story’s message to the world in mind while you write your scene ideas and ask yourself, Does each scene help deliver my message to the world?

#2: The Expansion Method (from Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method)

Take what you know and write a logline about your story. This is a single sentence that will get the gist of your story across. Think of it as an elevator pitch. Or what you would say if someone asked what your book is about and they only had 10 seconds to hear about it before glazing over, nodding, smiling, and making an excuse to walk away. ?

Next, brainstorm three major plot points to illustrate your story’s message to the world.

#3: Pixar Plot (from Pixar’s rules of storytelling)

If going step by step, plug your Expansion method plot into the Pixar Plot. This comes from Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling, rule #4. For this technique, use what you know about your story and plug and play with the following formula:

Once upon a time there was ____. Every day, ____. One day ____. Because of that, ____. Because of that, ____. Until finally, ____. And ever since that day, ____.

#4: The Jacket Copy

Use what you developed in your Pixar Plot (if going step by step) and expand it into a book jacket copy, otherwise, write up a 250 word back cover copy for your book.

#5: The Narrative Summary

Write out your story from start to finish as if you are telling a friend the plot of a movie. If it helps to actually talk this out, record yourself with an app like Otter.ai (which transcribes as you speak and has a free plan!). This is my favorite way to discover my story.

#6: Because that, this outline

Everything happens for a reason, whether internal or external. The Because That/This outline is a series of cause and effect events that propel the story forward.

The Because of That/This outline works great paired with the Pixar Plot to expand on the basic story, because it follows a similar pattern to the Pixar Plot:

Something happens, because that happened, this happens. Because of that, this happens. Because of that, this happens. And so on so forth.

Example: Charles robs the bank. Because of that, he is a wanted criminal. Because of that, he can’t attend his daughter’s birthday party at the public pool. Because of that, his ex-wife gets mad and turns him in…

It’s a super simple example, but aren’t you dying to know what happens next? That’s because of the cause and effect trajectory! Everything happens because something else caused it. And always always make sure your main character’s decisions, actions, and/or beliefs are what causes the story events to happen.

Your book will be unputdownable.

So there you have it! Six techniques to dig into the meat of your story and put flesh on your story baby’s bones! What is your favorite way to brainstorm your plot?

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