Kat: Brainstorming 101: What We Did Right

Last week I promised that today I would be posting a ‘she-said, she said’ brainstorming session that features Jeanne Estridge (friend of 8L and McD alum) and her story, The Devil She Knows. Instead of posting a transcript of that actual session verbatim (lots of boring stuff in there), we decided to use outtakes of it to show what we did wrong and what we did right.

Looking for the “big thing” or the clever thing isn’t necessary when brainstorming. That was lesson number one. Sometimes it’s the everyday actions—done cleverly—that can drive the story. Another thing we found was this: never dismiss anything. All is fair in love and brainstorming and the exchange below proves it.

While identifying threats to the clinic—Dara’s goal is to protect it—we tried to determine possible actions Belial could take to “save” it and hence make Dara fall for him:

K: Tell me about the clinic. What’s going on there?

J: It’s got ongoing financial issues, like any non-profit does.

K: Could that tie somehow into the air conditioner? (This refers to the air conditioner Shaun gave Agnes in Jenny Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman. It’s a reference to a practical thing the hero does/gives to the heroine to show his love).

J: Yeah, maybe. The clinic is actually under other threats, which is…

K: Yeah, I think that’s a good idea if you put it under other threats. It would open up possibilities of things he could do, because to me the thing he needs to do to make her fall in love with him is related to helping her…well actually, if she decides that he’s after the clinic, that he’s out to destroy the clinic, but that he comes up with an idea to save it or resolve some issue, then, wouldn’t that kind of lead her down this path that she’s wrong and can trust him.

J:  It could.

K: So it’s key, right? It’s key to gaining her trust.

J: As I originally conceptualized the book, Lilith (another demon)  created that other threat. She was always trying to make Dara look bad, and questioning her in front of the Board (of Trustees). But then some of the other girls in class came up with this idea that Lilith would pretend to be friendly, which I really like, but it took the other thing away. Of course I could create another character—someone on the board that’s always ragging Dara’s ass, always questioning her actions. Like when I worked at the clinic here in town one of the things that happened at a board meeting was that two older women had this idea that our clinic could save money by making the staff do the cleaning instead of having a professional cleaning company.

K. Hell, no.

J. Exactly. First of all, there were a bunch of people there who said they didn’t go to college to become cleaning ladies, but the other thing is, it’s specialty cleaning. You have to deal with lice and bedbugs and MRSA. It’s not just cleaning; it’s specialized cleaning.

K. Right, but that’s not really a threat to the clinic.

J. It is if it makes all the staff quit.

K. So…(pause)…I don’t like that idea. I’ll be honest; I don’t like that. I don’t know, I think it needs to be more concrete because what can he do about that? Clean? She catches him cleaning the bathroom?


J: Okay, I gotta tell you, I could be in a love with a man…

K: I was just gonna say, a man that cleans my bathroom, I’m there. That would be alright.

J: That’s the dream man.

K: Yep, that’s the dream man. That’s the gift that keeps on giving.


J: Yeah, honestly I have yet to find a man that will do that. Actually, though…

K: Wait a minute, wait a minute! Does that have any real possibilities? She finds him cleaning the bathroom? Seriously, maybe that has some potential. Let’s look at that…

We quickly realized we were in love with the idea of a demon who wins his lady by cleaning toilets.

I’ll stop there. Obviously, you never know where a remark or idea will take you and that’s the key to brainstorming. Let it all hang out, nothing is off limits, and don’t dismiss things out of hand (as I almost did).

NEXT WEEK (Two Parts): Where We Went Wrong

14 thoughts on “Kat: Brainstorming 101: What We Did Right

  1. Oh, to be a fly on the wall! LOL, sounds like a great time. I really, really like the idea of a toilet cleaning demon, if it works with the story. How does he clean the toilet? Zaps of magic brimstone? LOL! Or even just rolling up his sleeves and grabbing the scrub brush. It’s whole new ground for him, too. Maybe he thinks the toilet is some sort of special meditation or reading room (-:. If the devil doesn’t know about bathrooms, that could explain a whole lot about a lot of things (the bathroom is often my favorite room in my house!).

  2. Jeanne had a clear vision of Belial in elbow-length blue gloves with a brush in his hand (LOL). I may be posting more of that exchange because we discussed it at length. How it could tie into Belial’s character arc, how it would humanize him (no magic just good old fashioned elbow grease) and what it would mean to the story on several levels. Stay tuned for more next week!

    • LOL, many ways to do it, and if Jeanne’s got the vision, then that’s the way it should go.

      But, for the pure cheap laugh potential, a toilet that keeps burping up stuff (magic fish with gold rings in them, a plague of frogs, a rainbow with unicorns neighing somewhere down the trap) is fascinating. To me. And might fit into my story! Which just goes to show how brainstorming on the internet can be useful, too.

      It seems to me if Belial did magic, he’d be really, really good at it. I’m thinking more along the lines of a self-taught-on-the-internet wizard, I guess. Not Jeanne’s story.

      (-: So, helping someone else sometimes means you help yourself out, too.

  3. Brainstorming with trusted writer friends is a wonderful thing! The toilet-cleaning demon sounds like it could be a really fun scene. And IIRC, an early scene in Jeanne’s book has Nana claiming that one of the janitors at her nursing home is a (different) demon? There could be some sort of motif developing here :-).

  4. I love this, Kat, especially the idea that Belial wins over his lady by plain hard work and no demon mojo (presumably he spends more time generating plagues than zapping them). Can’t wait for the next instalment 🙂

  5. What fun! If Belial has any extra time, you could send him over to my house. I’ve got a toilet that needs cleaning, and I wouldn’t mind a little demon power in that area of the house.

  6. This is great! Reminds me of a conversation I had with my mom (brainstorming — she reads Regencies all the time, so she’s chock-full of great ideas). One innocuous comment led to a complete shift in my plot, which scored me my ending. I think this kind of exchange and tennis match-like collaboration is perfect!

    Regarding Belial elbow-deep in blue gloves, I actually think this humanizes him a bit, too. We know he’s doing it for his own self-serving purpose, but still…there’s something about a man cleaning a bathroom that sends a primordial message to a woman: “That man good!”

    • Yes, and that’s something that came up during the session. To me, Belial’s action (to win Dara) would have more impact if he acts as a human–that is, no magic. Using his magic powers would be taking the easy way (IMHO), and to really impress Dara he needs to make a sacrifice as well as go the “mortal” route. Which is why cleaning the bathroom could really be powerful for him (as well as the reason you state). She knows he’s a demon and could do this with a flick of his tail, but instead, he’s on hands and knees getting down with it 🙂

      More on this next week.

  7. The great thing is, this conversation opened up all kinds of new vistas for me. I’ve been working on this book for so long it’s stopped having much magic for me. Getting Kathy’s input really helped regenerate my enthusiasm.

  8. What I find so valuable about this process is the exploring of what you the writer may not explore. It’s like taking deep breaths in places you may just skim over and wow…the possibilities. Sometimes, when I write, I do want to get on with it, you know? And get to my next point or something, but to have someone point out a detail that could really open possibilities up that you never thought of, is invaluable.

    • Yes, I see it as being blinded folded in a way, wandering around in the dark because it’s comfortable, and having a really good friend lead you into the light.

      This session led to some really great things. One of which I pretty much discounted out of hand (something to be on guard for).

      Never discount anything when brainstorming.

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