I'm about to tackle another novel - a shorter one, maybe even a novella - something Christmasy as Book 3 in my series. So far, I've got a couple of characters roaming around my brain, as well as the vague beginnings of a plot.
I love this part of the process, the brainstorming. Nothing's committed to the page yet. Nothing is set in stone. Anything goes. There's great freedom in that.
But, I also dread this part because anything goes. Because there's such freedom. On one hand, there's always the possiblity of coming up empty, of feeling dry. On the other, there's a chance of becoming paralyzed with the endless brainstorming questions. There are hundreds of them writers must ask themselves: Where will the novel be set? Why there? Is the protagonist too likeable? What are his/her flaws? What motive does this character having for making this decision?
Then there are the physical details one must consider - physical descriptions of character and setting (thankfully, many of those can be decided even as you write the story).
So, how do I tackle the brainstorming? A few different ways:
1) I stay open to the Muse. This isn't as mystical as it sounds. Really, it just entails thinking and thinking and thinking about the novel. Letting ideas about the novel drift and circulate inside my head. Giving them the opportunity to marinate.
2) Asking myself questions. It goes back to the questions above - wondering about the details of plot, character, setting, structure. Those questions must be answered, somewhere along the way. Many writers like the questions to answer themselves AS they write the story. But I like to get some of the biggies out of the way ahead of time. That way, I feel more comfortable writing the story.
3) Make notes. Write EVERYTHING down, all your ideas, as they hit you. This can be difficult for me, as sometimes the Muse strikes me in odd places - driving from home to work, grading essays, having a conversation with someone. Not the most convenient times. I tell my students always to have a method for capturing those brainstorming ideas. If you don't have a pen handy, try this: call yourself and leave yourself a voicemail, detailing the ideas. Yes, I've done this before. Many times. Because as much as you try to remember brilliant ideas, trust me, they often have a way of flittering into your head, then out of it, just as quickly. Not a fun experience, trying to call up the memory and failing miserably. Because once it's gone, it's usually gone.
So. How do you handle the brainstorming process? Any special tricks or tips you use?