Kat: Brainstorming 102 – What We Did Wrong

iStock_000004896273XSmallLast week I talked about what Jeanne and I did right as we brainstormed The Devil She Knows. Today, I’d like to talk about what we did wrong.

Our original plan was to brainstorm the second act actions of the protagonist, Belial, given his goal to make Dara fall in love with him. As you may recall from last week’s posting, we immediately hit on a quirky (but good, we think) idea that requires Belial’s cleaning services in the clinic.  As we continued our conversation, we began working on Belial’s next action (or beat), which is where our session went off the rails:

J: Alright. So he cleans the bathroom, but I think you’re right. It needs to escalate to an external threat to the clinic.

K: Uh-huh, in three beats if possible, but I think the cleaning thing as a first beat is good. He’s trying to get her to fall in love with him. He sees a problem and he wants to solve the problem for her.

J: Yeah, and I think it solves another problem, too, which is it allows me to demonstrate that, you know, he realizes that he can actually talk to Dara about who he is and where he’s been, and she doesn’t judge him. Obviously, he’s done some really evil things over the period of 10,000 years, so he’s amazed that she doesn’t see him as any more evil than the average human being.

K: What if the next beat after that is her dealing with a “demon” on the board? A human devil making her life miserable? You could tie those two things together. Yeah, she doesn’t see him as that much different, and maybe in some ways better because he’s right out there. He’s not playing the game that humans play as they’re trying to undercut your ass or take you down like a gazelle…


J: I like that.

K: But, I hope you do the cleaning first. You need to build a series of things that ties back to…you know…things have to continually get worse for her…well, for him, right?

J: Yeah, so I’m thinking external threats to the Clinic. One is if there’s some kind of serious problem with the building. You know, where the building becomes unsafe, and another…

K: What kind of health regulations would a clinic have to adhere to? Are they inspected?

J: I’ve never heard of any inspectors.

K: Who regulates that stuff?

J: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s probably like hospitals. So maybe the inspectors are coming in and Dara & Co. realize they have to fix whatever is causing them to fail before they’re closed down, and Belial manages to cover it up or get rid of it before the person walks into the room.

K: Hmm…maybe. So if you were going to go with the whole building idea, the building is compromised, now you’ve got, you know, city and state officials potentially coming in…

J: Bureaucratic hell…

K: Right.

J: Another thing is, the volunteer coordinator is an undocumented worker and a threat to the clinic would certainly be that INS comes in and takes him away. Or she loses a bunch of people in the clinic and Belial could use his influence to fix some of those things.

K: So she has illegal workers there. Okay, let’s talk about that. Let’s say she’s going to lose the majority of her staff. These people are working for pittance and she doesn’t have any money and she can’t afford to replace most of them with Americans who want real salaries. How is he going to fix it?

J: Hmmm…

K: Okay, to me, it has to be something human. Not him waving a magic wand over it.

J: Well and the other thing you said earlier is that it has to look like a sacrifice.

K: I think so, right? Because he’s trying to get her to fall in love with him so it has to be a human act and it has to be a sacrifice for him. She knows he’s a demon, so if he waves a magic wand over it, big deal.

J: True.

K: Big frigging deal. That’s no sacrifice. That’s nothing for him.

J: Yeah, the other problem is, I don’t know how to do it.

K: Conceivably you could find out, but I don’t believe it. What does he do? Go into a room and forge paperwork? Whoopdee do, there you go, problem solved. No. Remember this conversation when we start talking about Hawk’s plan (Hawk is Kat’s story antagonist).


J: Okay. No magic wands.

J: Maybe we could use a subplot. I’ve got Javier, an illegal alien, who is the volunteer coordinator. The woman who works the front desk was a registered nurse but she lost her nursing license and she would really like to become a nurse again. I’ve got a pharmacist who is gay and he wants to get gay married which you can’t in Florida which sucks, but it doesn’t really work. Oh, and there’s Kelsey who was a ballerina who tore her meniscus and she can’t dance so now she’s really determined to find a doctor to marry. That’s what she wants.

K: That’s great, but if you go with the whole illegal alien thing the only thing Dara is going to lose is her volunteer coordinator?

J: Well…

K: That’s not going to shut her clinic down.

J: No, especially since that’s a fairly easy position to replace, but I think the next threat should be a people threat.

K: Or the building threat and then the people threat. But I don’t know. If your building is gone isn’t that equal to or great than losing your staff? That last thing has to be so big on top of the other two or three that it’s going to push her to get in the sack with him. If she loses her staff, I don’t know…

J: One nice thing even if we don’t come to any conclusions today is that this has really crystalized for me what it is I need which is two more beats…

As of today, Jeanne STILL needs two (or more) beats since we forgot a major “rule” as we got carried away talking about building inspectors and illegal aliens and creepy board members. In Jeanne’s words:

 The choices Belial makes should have outcomes that force him to make more choices that push him someplace he doesn’t want to go.  And those outcomes should come to him via Dara, his antagonist, not via the Board or other outside agencies. Otherwise, we’ve got that string-of-pearls, then-this-happens, then-this-happens, then-this-happens deal going on.

Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up my series on brainstorming with some tips and lessons learned, as well as provide an opportunity to help Jeanne brainstorm a single component of her story!

6 thoughts on “Kat: Brainstorming 102 – What We Did Wrong

  1. Kat and Jeanne, I have a question about ‘no magic wands’. Belial’s a demon, right, and for 10,000 years he’s used his poweful mojo to do bad stuff. So if he uses his mojo to do good stuff, wouldn’t that be a big deal for him? And it might get him into big trouble back at Head Office? Plus it would be an incredibly difficult thing for Dara to accept. If he starts by cleaning the bathroom, determined to do things Dara’s way, but then something big happens and he has to use his super-powers to fix it, would that be a good escalation?

    Or maybe he can only use his super-powers for bad, so he tries to use them and they don’t work? Or he has to figure out a way to double-deal Mojo Central to make them work?

    Really looking forward to tomorrow’s instalment!

  2. These are great ideas, Jill. Let me give them some thought and see if I can figure out a solid escalation path with them (we didn’t get that far). Thanks for the fresh ideas!

  3. Good question, Jilly, and I hope Jeanne weighs in too because it is her story.

    My thinking on the special power issue was that since Dara knows he’s a demon with special powers, it would be more impressive (to her) if he doesn’t use them. In other words, cleaning the bathroom by hand would be more of a sacrifice for him (and humanize him) then waving his magic wand.

    A second idea I had was that Dara could come to see his powers as a potential threat to the clinic. After all, the last thing Dara wants is to have potential donors scared away with rumors of devil worship (or whatever).

  4. Gosh, I love this post! It’s going to make me think about escalation — a big problem in my own stories.

    One of my random thoughts was “OMG, if the INS comes after the undocumented worker, can Belial’s papers survive inspection???” Also, a lot of doctors come to America and can’t practice (or at least, couldn’t — most recently I read about it in the book Justine recommended, “The Emperor of All Maladies”). What if the undocumented worker wasn’t just a co-ordinator, but an unofficial true helping hand?

    So, if Belial saves the worker (and maybe his own tail) by besting immigration, maybe this makes Satan really angry? Because even though it’s part of Belial’s larger game, it is also saving souls and preventing people from being miserable and dying in the short-term. Is Satan a long-term thinker, or a short-term thinker?

    I don’t know — maybe this just confuses the issues. But you’ve got a great book developing, Jeanne!

    (-: And I’m going to have to find a local writing buddy! (Any of you guys want to move to Japan?)

    • One good thing about the world today is you don’t have to live in the same town to be writing buddies (although it does help to be in similar time zones). If you’re looking for someone to brainstorm with in not-real-time, you’ve got my email address. Maybe, after the first of the year, we need to set up a joint accountability to get words on the page.

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