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"But where do I start?" - A Simple, Proven Brainstorming Technique

Many thanks to Useful Fiction LLC for allowing me to share this brainstorming methodology that helps frame a story without getting bogged down in the details. This method starts with the most important part of your story, the message you want to impart to the reader.


For more information on Useful Fiction and the art of using narrative for strategic messaging, visit their website.


1.   The Message: What is the one sentence you want your readers to remember when they stop reading.

2.   The Audience: Who needs to hear it. Be as specific as possible.

3.   The “why” of the audience: What motivates the audience? What do they value? Why should they pay attention to your message? What’s in it for them?

4.   The Setting: Where will this take place. It has to cross the real and imaginary. Use small details to make it feel real.

5.   The Characters: Who is guiding us through the story? Create depth and relatability with these Character Hacks. Include both a Hero and a Villain. Remember, the villain may not be a person; it may be a system, bureaucracy, or even an idea.

6.   Style: This should be summed up in a few words. It may sound corny, but it focuses your style before you write, allowing you to maintain course. Think in terms of other existing works. “It’s like Office Space, but on an intergalactic space station.” It’s “a cowboy story from the perspective of the saloon owner.”

7.   Plot: A short description of the story that outlines the beginning, middle, and end. “A Soldier is pounding pickets on the Southwest Border. He complains about having to be there when he joined the National Guard to be a plumber. The story transitions to the marital issues he was facing prior to deployment and how this was unexpected and difficult. Finally, we find out that his wife has threatened to divorce him if he reenlists, and he’s left with the decision to get out of the Army.”

8.   Character Development: Build the depth of your character in the context you have built so far. What makes them interesting? What is the central conflict they are facing? What motivates them? How will they change?

9.   The Ending (again): This is not the same as the ending discussed under the plot. This is a conscious effort to identify the “wrap-up” of the story. This is the last communication you will have with the reader. Identify the thought you want them to walk away with. How do you want them to feel? Excited? Angry? Motivated? You can be explicit with this thought if you’ve led your reader to the logical conclusion; simply stating the thought will tie everything together with a nice bow.

10. Title: This is a draft title. It can be “on the nose,” a double entendre, or perhaps a meaningful image. It should be intriguing and give the reader a reason to continue.


Try this technique out and see how it works for you! If you have any other ideas, tips or tricks that work for you, let us know!



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