What happens when romance writers get together to brainstorm? Is it a long, hard nose-to-the-grindstone slog or a slumber party flashback fueled by food, fun and games? ADRIENNE GIORDANO dishes about a successful brainstorming weekend and answers the question, “Are four brains really better than one?”
I love when people ask me where I get book ideas. The truth is I have a lot of help. Of course, I come up with the initial spark of an idea, but the real work begins on “brainstorming weekend” with my pals Kelsey Browning, Tracey Devlyn and Theresa Stevens. Brainstorming weekend is a semi-annual event that began the summer of 2010 at the RWA conference in Orlando. Kelsey thought it might be fun if we spent the day before the start of the conference brainstorming ideas for our next projects.
There’s a certain magic when the four of us get into brainstorming mode. Theresa said it best when she said “It’s the power of four brains.” Four brains with various strong points. Kelsey is the character-motivation brain, Tracey is the ratchet-up- the-tension brain, I’m the plot-structure brain and Theresa, well, her fantastic editor’s brain keeps us reeled in when we try to go too far.
This past weekend we ventured to Nashville. Here’s a little taste of what goes on during brainstorming sessions:
Friday: We arrived around 1:OO p.m. and stopped for lunch so we could all catch up and chat. We checked-in to the hotel then headed out to the grocery store for snacks and meal supplies. Tracey needed honey barbecue potato chips, Kelsey needed Silk, I needed Kandy Kakes and Theresa needed hummus. The essentials, you know.
By six, we were back in one of our suites ready to work. Typically, I come prepared with a rough outline of the book. This time I had only a story idea and how I wanted the first scene to go. We literally started from scratch. We spent three hours throwing out ideas, debating motivations and goals, then spitting out more ideas that were either nixed or kept. Some of the most exciting moments are when Kelsey frantically throws her hand up or Theresa yells “Ooh, ooh, ooh.”
The power of four brains.
Three hours later we had a load of backstory and a plot outlined. Tracey insisted on killing a person or two, so we gave in and made it happen. I was thrilled with what we’d accomplished, but I was also terrified. We’d had an intense session, and I’d taken in a lot of information. I knew I needed to get my notes organized and figure out what questions I had.
Saturday: We began at 8:30 a.m. with Tracey’s new series idea. This was great fun for us because Tracey had a complete series developed, but she wanted to flesh out the individual pieces. I should say that prior to meeting up for the weekend we all try to send each other notes on our ideas. It gives each of us a chance to study and think about story angles ahead of time.
By midday we’d plotted multiple books for Tracey and she had the same terrified look that I’d had the night before. Me? I loved what we’d accomplished for her. I feel certain this exciting series might be the first NY Times bestselling series we’ve plotted. It’s rich and fun with a strong heroine and a concept that will keep readers coming back again and again. I cannot wait to see it in print.
By 12:30, Kelsey was in the batter’s box. Kelsey’s books are always a hoot to plot. They have a zany quality to them and no idea, no matter how crazy it is, is ever dismissed without giving it a proper vetting. This time Kels came to Nashville determined to kill a certain character. She wanted this guy dead, but we made her bring him back to life. Part of what works about our group is each of is willing to be convinced there’s another way. By four o’clock we’d worked through a rough plot for Kelsey, but she still had nagging issues that needed to be resolved. We decided to let it rest for the night and give it another go the next day.
Saturday evening we gave ourselves a much needed mental break and went to the amazing Bluebird Café. If you are ever in Nashville, the Bluebird is a must see!
Sunday: By 9:00 a.m. we are ready to dig in with Theresa’s historical series. This project might have been the biggest challenge we’ve faced because she wanted to plot two books with concurrent timelines. She had all the backstory and the plot of the first book outlined, but we had to plot the second book and work within the time constraints and setting of the first book. By noon, we’d done it. Of course, we had a few tense moments when I had to tell Tracey (also a historical author) to stay in her own damned era. That’s the fun of brainstorming in a “safe” environment. We trust and respect each other.
I think this is the key element as to why these sessions work for us. We may tease and joke, but we never do harm. Is it intense work? Yes. Can it be done with anyone? I don’t think so. These three ladies know my writing as well as anyone. They know my hot buttons and the type of characters I like to write. I know, without a doubt, every suggestion they make comes from a supportive, caring place.
Sunday afternoon we took a break. Brainstorming sessions are extremely focused and by day three our brains have usually let us know they need some downtime. We headed out to the Opryland Hotel for lunch and some sightseeing. The few hours away from brainstorming refreshed my mind and revved me up for more work on my outline.
By 5:00 p.m. we were back at the hotel and decided to study our individual notes. I knew I still had some plot issues that I needed to work through, and within an hour I was ready to get back to brainstorming. We spent ninety minutes refining my plot and finally let Tracey kill someone.
At 7:30, Kelsey wanted to take another crack at her book. What we had for her were ideas for scenes, but we didn’t have an order for those scenes. Theresa whipped out index cards and wrote out all the scene ideas. We then spread the cards on the floor and shuffled them around until we’d worked all the scenes into a cohesive timeline. This was the first time we’d ever used index cards as a group (usually we write ideas on presentation paper taped to the walls) and we found that it really helped to visualize how the plot would unfold. Notecards will now be a permanent fixture at our brainstorming sessions.
By 9:00, we were all exhausted, our minds were mush and we’d eaten way too much junk food. I’d call it a successful weekend.
There it is, my diary of a brainstorming weekend. It may sound like a lot. It is. For this reason, we record each session so we can all go home with a copy of the ideas tossed around. It comes in handy because the process is physically draining and on the last day we typically stare at each other with a glazed, numb expression. The good news that comes from all this exhaustion is we brainstormed seven stories. All in three days. The power of four brains.
RU Crew, what do you think? Would you enjoy a brainstorming weekend of your own?
Stop back on Friday when our topic is So, how to wow? with Christine Pride.
Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery. She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. For more information on Adrienne’s books please visit www.AdrienneGiordano.com. Adrienne can also be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AdrienneGiordanoAuthor and Twitter at http://twitter.com/AdriennGiordano. For information on Adrienne’s street team, Dangerous Darlings, go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/dangerousdarlings.
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