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The Writing Magic of Brainstorming Scenes First


Brainstorm First, Organize Later

​Writers want a story that is unlike any other. Brainstorming your scenes is a creative way to capture the essence of your story. The ideas go straight from your head into story scenes. Use old-fashioned 3×5 cards, tools like Scrivener, or just list them out in a document. Keep adding scenes until you have all the scenes of your story. 
You can move them around as you add scenes, but don’t focus on this too much. The concept is to write down as many scenes as you can that will be part of your story.
The key to this process is that it is a brainstorming exercise. No judgment. If a scene comes to mind, add it to the list. You’ll organize them later.

Structure Time

After you have written your scenes, it’s time to structure your story. It doesn’t matter if you use The Hero’s Journey, Save The Cat beats, or any one of a number of story structure devices. Different structures work best for different writers. 
Get your basic plot points. Here is novelist Kristen Kieffer‘s basic list.
• Exposition. The necessary character, setting, and background details readers need to understand the context of your novel. (Note: exposition is *not* the beginning of a novel, though most often exposition is revealed during the first few chapters in order to set the scene).
• Call-To-Action. The moment when the hero is called to leave the ordinary world to take part in an otherworldly adventure. Usually found in fantasy and science fiction novels.
• Rising Action. The series of events leading up to the climax of the story. 
• Crises. Peaks in tension or conflict that occur throughout the rising action of the novel.
• Climax. The most intense crisis found in the narrative, though not necessarily the final crisis.
• Falling Action. The series of events after the climax of the story where questions are answered and any remaining crises occur and are resolved.

• Resolution. The final moments of a novel where any remaining threads of tension are resolved and a new reality is established.

What matters is that you choose your structure so you can start adding scenes.

Place Your Scenes in the Structure Format

Now you can place your scenes in story order, according to your chosen plot structure. Use a cork board, software, or a document to order your scenes.


Story Structure: The Container for Your Scenes

At this stage two things can happen:

  • You find you have scenes missing to complete the full story structure
  • Scenes on your list don’t seem to fit in the story structure

​Now it’s time to refine your structure. If important scenes are missing you can add them to complete the full cycle of your plot.
Take a look at those scenes that don’t fit in the story structure. If you don’t find a place for the scenes to move the story forward, it’s time to let them go. 

Video Tutorial

Slideshow of Basics

Rewards of Brainstorming and Structure

With the scenes in line with the structure, it’s time to start writing.
The immense benefit of brainstorming the scenes is that you already know what happens. You don’t have to stall wondering what comes next. You’ve already envisioned the scene.
You’ll find that you can focus on writing, and that the writing will go swiftly. 
The process also eliminates spending hours of writing only to find your story has led to a dead end or you’ve boxed yourself in. The scene process, saves hours of rewrite time from writing “freeform.”
You won’t get lost. You can write the scenes in any order as your mood strikes, but in the end you’ll complete your story without false starts or material that bogs down the story. Because you write more quickly, you’ll save time creating your entire story. 

​Zara Altair


Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Argolicus thinks he has retired, but he and his tutor, Nikolaos are drawn into puzzles, politics, and murder.
She consults with a select group of writers as The Story Bodyguard.

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