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5 Ways to Brainstorm a book Idea

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JK Rowling came up with her big idea for Harry Potter on a delayed train, Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games fame was inspired when she was channel surfing between a war report and a game show, and Stephen King came up with The Shining while staying with his family in a hotel where they were the only guests.

A book will include multiple themes but at the heart of it, is usually one big idea -that moment of excitement when you think, that would be a great idea for a book!

It’s easy to imagine that ideas suddenly pop up unexpectedly, but for many authors, myself included, it’s usually a deliberate act of sitting down and brainstorming. I do this regularly even when I don’t need a book idea, and like any habit, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. But rather than facing a blank page, there are several techniques I use. Below are my top five ways to come up with a potential idea for a book.

1. Ask What if…?

This is a great question to ask yourself and you can let your imagination run wild. Usually, I will set my timer for fifteen minutes and answer this question in as many different ways as I can.

What if the sun didn’t rise tomorrow?

What if I woke up and I was unable to move?

What if the mobile phone had never been invented?

A lot of these questions usually remain as marks on the paper, but occasionally there may be the odd one that calls to be explored a little further. When I was writing The Perfect Lie, the question, what if my son was accused of rape? was a central idea for the novel.

2. Ask What question do I get asked the most?

This technique is a good starting point if you’re looking to write non-fiction. What advice do people always seek from you? What question do you get asked the most from your community or your customers? What topic are you considered an expert? What unusual experiences have you gained that people often ask you about? List down as many answers as you can and see if any could be potential book ideas.

3. Burroughs Cut Up Method

This always reminds me of vision boarding (which I love!) as it’s so relaxing going through old magazines and creating something new. Burrough’s method is the text equivalent. Basically, you cut sentences and/or words from magazines, newspapers or old documents (you can use books but the thought of taking a pair of scissors to one brings me out in hives.) You then rearrange these slips of paper to create new sentences and ideas. This idea is names after American author William S. Burroughs who did just this. It’s a great technique if you're the type of person who thinks best when doing.

4. The Addition Method

This is about taking two existing ideas and putting them together to come up with something new. It’s adapted from a principle used in product development, for example, taking the mobile phone and a camera and putting them together. The same can be applied for a book idea. When I wrote The Good Mother, I brainstormed into two columns and then mixed and matched ideas with each other to see if any would work. I eventually settled on combining the idea of writing to a convicted murder in prison and motherhood which helped me create a unique story.

5. Record Your Dreams

For many people, sleep can bring a whole new world that can be used for potential book ideas. Keep a notepad and pen by the side of your bed and try and record those fragments as soon as you wake up. Do it for several nights in a row, even if you don’t think the dreams (or nightmares!) are particularly interesting and it will soon become a habit. After a week or so, look back over your notes and see if there are any gems from subconscious that can be used for a book.

How did you come up with the idea for your book?


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I'm Karen, a best-selling novelist who left her corporate life to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've written everything from travel articles to web copy before winning a novel writing competition which led to a 3-book deal. 


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