Brainstorming Ideas

Over at Bizarro Central, people are talking about how they get their ideas for stories. So I am posting my answer here. I usually get my ideas using a variety of methods, but the one I use the most is a variation of the Ray Bradbury method.

Ray Bradbury’s method for coming up with stories works great, in my opinion. He would write down dozens of words (usually nouns) onto a sheet of paper. He would pull them out of books by flipping through pages and pointing randomly at words. They were words like Skeleton, Scythe, Crowd, Maiden, Wind, Lake, Coffin, etc. Then he would pick a word from the list and think of it as the title of a story. He would try to come up with the most interesting and imaginative plot he could based on that title. So, the Skeleton was about a man who learns one day that his skeleton has awareness and is rebelling against its body. The Crowd was about a mysterious crowd that always shows up at every car crash. Basically, he used a word as a trigger for his imagination.

I do the same thing, but I combine multiple words. I create a list just as Bradbury did. Then I make random combinations of 2, 3 or 4 words. Then I have a list of combinations and if any of them seem like they would make good titles and trigger my imagination in any way I will write a book or story based on them. These books I based on random word combinations: Satan Burger, Electric Jesus Corpse, Razor Wire Pubic Hair, Haunted Vagina, Menstruating Mall, Steel Breakfast Era, Teeth and Tongue Landscape, Ocean of Lard, the Egg Man, War Slut, and the upcoming book: Handsome Squirm.

After I have a title, I think of the most interesting story that could go with that title. Sometimes the title gets straight to the point. Satan Burger is about a fast food place owned by Satan. Haunted Vagina is about a haunted vagina (well, sorta). Ocean of Lard is about pirates on an ocean made of lard. But some of them, like Steel Breakfast Era, really don’t make much sense as titles. However, the words Steel Breakfast Era triggered something in my imagination that gave me the idea for the book. Porno in August is another title that did this. When I randomly combined the words Porno and August together, I came up with the Porno in August short story. For some reason, the word August reminds me of the ocean, so it made me think of a Porno that was being filmed in the middle of the ocean. That’s where the story begins.

Whenever I get stuck while writing a story, I will do this word combination brainstorm exercise and sometimes it will give me an idea for where the plot will go. Perhaps I will combine words to create an object that a character will use such as a glass chainsaw or hyperspace panties. A lot of my chapter titles come from word combinations, especially in Satan Burger and Sausagey Santa, and then I have the chapter based around that title.

That’s just a method I use to trigger my own imagination. There are other ways. Tons of other ways.

3 Responses to “Brainstorming Ideas”

  1. Chris Benton Says:

    With me, it usually happens with a single fluid image, already chest-deep in the shit-storm of the still unknown plot, making the beginning of the story(most of the time) a cakewalk…

  2. Aarni Mustonen Says:

    Thanks for another interesting post, Carlton. Now we know how you get the first ideas for your novels. We also know what kind of marathon sessions you go through when writing them. But what happens between these two phases? What kind of preparations and planning do you perform before starting the marathon writing? What does an author need to know about his story before sitting downd to write it? What kind of techniques do you use during this preparation period?

  3. William S. Burroughs pioneered and popularized the Cut-up technique introduced by the Dadaists of the 20s. His method was to cut up newspapers and then randomly pull words and assemble them again into sentences.

    Bradbury continued it. Mellick III champions it as well.

    Interestingly enough, it seems to have worked for each in creating something that surpasses expectations.

    I’m curious, have you tried the Cut-up method before with actual newspapers or magazines?

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