Tweaking the "What if...?" of Brainstorming

>> Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes that's all it takes.

When you're brainstorming, try this little tweak to a powerful technique: instead of saying: "What If..." try saying "Maybe..."

I small it sounds stupid, right?  But it works for me. 

When I say, "What if...the sky were purple?"  I feel committed to coming up with a result of the sky being purple. 

If I don't know what would happen in my story if the sky were purple, if I can't come up with an idea of what would happen in my story if the sky were purple, I hit a wall. 

The need to answer the question stifles me.  I feel crowded.  My spine stiffens.  My shoulders start to crawl up around my ears.  Creativity goes on lock down.  

"I don't know!" I want to scream.  "What if the sky was purple? So what?"

The exercise "What if...?" is meant to be a brainstorming doorway to an unlimited number of paths for your stories.  But if the words you're using to kick start your journey never push you across the threshold, then the method isn't working.

Don't give up on the's an awesome tool.  Just tweak it to fit your own quirky mind.  Like I did.

Instead of "What if..."  I say, "Maybe..."

When I say, "Maybe...the sky was purple," I feel ponderous.  I tilt my chin, look up, my mind drifting as thoughts ping off one another like a computer game of pinball.  

If the big one doesn't strike and everything goes still, I move on to, "Maybe...the sky was red."  And my mind drifts off again. 

"Maybe..." allows me to explore, which is the whole point of brainstorming.

For other people, "Maybe..." might feel too free form and make them jittery.  Still others may prefer the combination of  "If this..., then that..." 

You may have to go through a bit of trial and error to find the perfect fit for you, but when you do, the flow of ideas will have been well worth the time.

Do you have special words or ways of brainstorming?


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