NaNoWriMo Quickstart Guide – Part Two: Brainstorming Ideas

Step 2: Brainstorming Ideas

Once you’ve picked your genre, the next step is customizing this story so it’s yours.

How do you do this? It’s pretty simple- the same way every single writer before you made their stories original to them- they drew from their own life experience.

Now, you might be thinking, “Life experience? My life is boring! Nobody wants to read about me!”

But, the truth is, everyone’s life is unique and interesting to someone else. The more different their life is from yours, the more interesting yours becomes. Yes, your life might seem boring to you, or your siblings, but how many of your friends have different lives than you? Have you ever thought your friends’ lives were more interesting than yours? Of course you have! And they live near you! What about someone who lives far away? What will they think of your life?

So, you definitely have something unique to offer- your own life perspective. Nobody else is you, and nobody has had quite the experiences you have had. The trick is, you just need to combine those experiences with your genre of choice.

Let’s do it.

There are many brainstorming techniques you can use to add some of your own originality to your story, however one of the best is the The Paradox Technique (first suggested by UK Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock). It’s a great technique that will work for almost any genre, and will really loosen up your creative juices.

Here’s how it works.

Take out a piece of paper (or open up a word processing document) and set a timer for ten minutes (or more, depends on you). Then, with your genre in mind, start to write down as many paradoxes (things that don’t fit together) as you can in that time. The key here is to write down descriptive adjectives and then pair them with nouns (people, places, things) and verbs (action words) that they don’t normally go with.

So, let’s say you were writing a office romance story, you might end up with some entries that look like this:

  • Basement penthouse.
  • Dry coffee pot.
  • Pageless book.
  • Useless computer.
  • Tasty policeman.
  • Ink Pencil.
  • Blind glasses.
  • Pickle wine.
  • Wheel-less car.
  • Singing plant.
  • Hole filled cups.
  • And so on…

Keep going until the time is up, and push the ideas as far as you can go, no matter how strange they may seem. The idea here is to tap into your subconscious and creative side. Then, when you’re done, look back at the list and the circle the ones which strike you as interesting or give you other ideas. Often a bunch of these seemingly strange ideas can be combined to produce scenes or story elements which make a different and unique story. While “pickle wine” might not factor into an office romance story well, if we combine “wheel-less car” and “tasty policeman” we might get an office worker who comes out to find her car’s wheels have been stolen and ends up in a romance with the police officer who comes to investigate. Or maybe there’s a practical joke war going on in the office, and some of the contradictions like “singing plants”, “pageless books”, and that weird “pickle wine” might start to make sense!

You can probably start to see now how useful and creative this technique can be, so try it yourself! Don’t forget to include things like people, jobs, machines, and other things that you’d find in the environment of your chosen genre story. And, if you don’t know the environment, then add those to the list too! (“Dry swamp”, “Bending skyscraper”, “Sweet Street”, etc.)

One other method, if the Paradox Technique doesn’t work for you, is to create three columns on a sheet of paper. The first one is descriptive adjectives and adverbs, the second one is nouns, and the third one is verbs. Then take five to ten minutes to fill the three lists with as many words as you can that you associate with your chosen genre or story idea (if you have one already). After you’ve filled them out, go back and try combining the words you’ve listed in different ways, and see if any of those combinations spark ideas that you can develop into a story or parts of a story.

So, it might look something like this for a Space Opera story:


  • Cold
  • Burning
  • Steely
  • Sweet
  • Rough
  • Wooden
  • Alien


  • Space Station
  • Starship
  • Gun
  • Tentacle
  • Plastic
  • Goggles
  • Flying Belt


  • Fight
  • Punch
  • Shoot
  • Kick
  • Jump
  • Toss
  • Embrace
  • Lose

Then you would start combining the words in different ways (they look better side by side) and seeing if any interesting combinations jumped out at you like “Alien Gun”, “Steely Goggles”, “Wooden Starship”, or “Burning Flying Belt”. From those we could get a story about a space ranger whose trademark is wearing steely mirrorshade goggles and who finds a strange gun aboard an alien starship made of wood and must fight against raiders wearing flying belts who are after the alien ship. Or something like that! Maybe you see a different story in those words, and that’s fine, the key is to just dump anything that comes to your head out onto the page and start playing with the lists to see what interesting combinations strike your fancy!

Whatever technique you use, your goal is to come up with at least two different ideas for stories you can write based on your genre and add them to the worksheet. If you can come up with more, that’s even better, because now you need to figure out what your story’s Core Premise is!