• Kacen Callender

WIP: Brainstorming

Happy holidays, Happy New Year, all that wonderful jazz! I’m reemerging from the writing cave with another blog post. <3

I’m in my favorite stage for two novels: brainstorming. Ah, brainstorming: all of the daydreaming, the exciting scenes that come fully executed with just the right amount of emotion, almost like a movie playing out in your head—the stage where logistics don’t matter, plot holes aren’t a thing of existence. As I finish the first draft of a novel where my writing is all about moving around scenes to create smoother pacing and flow, daydreaming and brainstorming is the best break an enby could ask for.

I have high hopes for both of these books—not only because I think the concepts are bomb (okay, yes, I’m a child of the 90s, give me a break), but because I actually am taking such a long time with the brainstorming. I can’t talk specifics because nothing’s been announced, but I’ve been writing these other books that sold on proposal for the last few months, effectively forcing me to put the two fantasy ideas I’ve had to the side.

To be clear, I love and am excited by all of the books I’m writing. It’s just that I’d expected to be writing these two books this fall and winter, so my plans were rearranged—for the better. My usual MO is to get the flash of an idea, feel the burn of excitement, and jump right in. (What about that one potential plot hole that’s already appearing in my notes? Meh, I’ll figure it out later.) Fast forward about 25K words later, and I hate it—hate all of it. The premise, the characters, the scenes I’ve written, the world. Nothing is working. UGH.

But a part of me is just a little desperate, right? Writing is my lifeline, where I find so much spiritual fulfillment, how I literally pay the bills… and besides, I still feel the flashes of excitement for the book’s idea and what it could be, so I decide to force it—slap some band-aids on the plot holes (imagine a smiley-face sticker on a black hole), throw a few more badass characters into the mix to hopefully distract the reader from the fact that my main characters are seriously in need of development, it’ll be fine. Yes, this is fine.

With my focus on these other projects I’ve been writing, I told myself I’d get back to the fantasy book ideas in February. I’ve mentioned my Compost Heap before—I pop in and out of the document to jot down notes, then go back to the books that’ve sold, that I need to focus on.

…Wait a minute. Wait a dang minute! I thought I mentioned the Compost Heap in my blog, and in true Virgo fashion decided to scroll through every post to double check, and see that I haven’t actually mentioned it?! The Compost Heap is a HUGE must-have in my process, and I love to recommend it to any writer.

Okay, quick tangent to talk about the Compost Heap (which fits in well with a post about brainstorming anyway): I got the term Compost Heap from Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass, where he described one place—journal, document, anything—where you drop all of your ideas. This was a really groundbreaking process for me, when I used to make a new document for every single idea I ever had. I’d forget which ideas I’d already written, and when I was cleaning up my files, I’d find like five documents for the same idea—sometimes exactly the same, word-for-word, having forgotten I’d already come up with that idea. (I have a theory that story ideas that we really love don’t actually leave us alone until they’re written, so, well, might as well write them.) Under each idea, I write down whatever note comes to me.

The Compost Heap is also excellent for organization. I have the different genre categories and the ideas listed beneath each, which is helpful for mixing and matching ideas together (and I cross-pollinate genres, too)—something I might’ve missed if they were still separated into different documents. I also have a list of themes at the top of the CH, which is helpful to refer to when I have an idea that doesn’t necessarily have a theme, or a point, to the story yet. I don’t break the ideas down by age range, which is actually helpful also when it comes to figuring out the story for what it’s meant to be. There are a couple of ideas that could be either MG, or YA, or even adult depending really on voice and content—but the more the story develops, the more I have a clearer idea of where it could live on the shelves. Deciding the age range for the idea from the beginning could cut off the story’s potential, steering it away from what it’s meant to be, because of a preconceived notion of what I think it should be.

Then, basically, when ideas have so many notes that I’ve basically got a miniature outline going, I pull the outline out into its own document, and let the story develop from there. Here’s an example:


-A character is ghosted by a love interest and learns they might’ve actually been kidnapped or needs help so goes on a thriller-mystery adventure to find them

-This could be set in the Caribbean—St. Thomas, something interesting about the idea of “paradise” meeting the darkness of a thriller like this

-The main character could actually see ghosts, full-circle on the concept

-Probably more of a YA

-Theme? There is no theme, this is a ridiculous idea that I’m using for an example, but feel free to take it if you like it :)

So, anyway. I throw ideas in my Compost Heap, and sometimes when inspiration strikes, I’ll spend a longer amount of time outlining plot. So, as I’ve been writing these other projects, every now and then an idea for the other fantasy books will pop in my head, and I’ll open the Compost Heap and slip them in there.

Which brings me to the best part of the brainstorming I’ve been doing for the past few months: the ideas have really had the time to cook. I don’t look at the Compost Heap for weeks, sometimes. I come back to the CH, and an idea that seemed good three months ago makes me cringe now. A handful of weeks also means that the ideas I wasn’t truly invested in or excited about slip away, and the only ones that remain, the ones that still make my heart pump, are the ones that I know I have to write about. I’d been mentioning two fantasy books, but I actually started out with three fantasy ideas at the end of the summer, which then became two, as two of the ideas merged together into one. One idea, which had the grandiosity of a huge world and exciting, thriller-like plot, but absolutely no theme, now has a message that has changed fundamental ideas of the plot, the characters, the world.

I’m not going to rag on myself for moving quickly in the past: like I said, I’ve got bills to pay, and I wasn’t always in the lucky position I’m in now, where I have projects lined up, and I can take my time on these other ideas instead of jumping right in, worried about if I’ll be able to pay my rent. But I’m so grateful that I am being given the space to let those ideas sit, to let them come and go as they please, to put pieces together that I might not have seen before. The black hole-sized plot holes are getting just a little smaller, and when I sit down to write, I’ll have a stronger idea of not only the characters/world/plot, but about what I’m actually excited to write, not necessarily just what I think I must write, which I think will ultimately mean better storytelling.

I understand not being able to do this, but I want to throw out there that, if you can, it’s can be so worth it to take your time. I think one of my biggest fears was that if I take my time, another writer will snag the same idea that’s up in the ether, and then they’ll publish it before me. And… I mean, I guess that might still be true, haha. But I also think taking the time to delve into the specificities will make it even less likely that our books will be the same, even if the general concept is similar. Delving into the brainstorming and letting those specificities grow naturally is another sure way, too, to make the story feel real, genuine, and not simply like it’s following the ”big book formula”, which I think we’re all starting to become weary of, if we aren’t already.

That’s it for now—I’m jumping back into my writing cave, but I’m looking forward to when I can speak more openly about the process of the books I’m writing now, and I can’t wait to dive into the writing of these two fantasy ideas to share how the stories are (or aren’t) working out. Thanks to everyone who reads these blog posts!

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