Hello, writers! So, I’m going to dive deeper into the first step I take when planning a writing project, that is the thought dump. Thought dumping is a step that many writers skip over, and those who do participate in it, often do not give it the emphasis it deserves. I find this an essential starting point for any piece of creative writing. As I described last week, the thought dump essentially consists of making a running list of ideas for your project. Everything and anything you think of should be written down right at the beginning so that it isn’t forgotten.
Why do a Thought Dump
There are a few key reasons to thought dump before getting into the nitty gritty of the planning phase. First, the early parts of idea conception tend to be the most fruitful in supplying you with pieces of your story. The thought dump allows you to take full advantage of those ideas and get them out of your brain and on to paper so that more ideas can shuffle in. Secondly, when your mind is racing with story ideas and details, it’s likely that you will forget some of it. Writing it down in a quick format eliminates that from happening. Lastly, this list is something you can add to and look back on as you progress. It can serve as a bank which you can draw on when you’re writing starts to drag (which it almost inevitably will at some point). Not only can you draw on this for the current project, but some of these ideas that don’t make it in could come in handy when writing later works, whether it’s part of the same series or not.
How to Format a Thought Dump
This may seem obvious to some of you, but just so that there is no confusion, I find it works best to format thought dumps as a bulleted list. This provides separation between each point, and will aid in the post-work that I will discuss further down in this post. I would discourage you from free writing a long paragraph style list because it will be difficult to go back through, and daunting to try and piece out. Furthermore, it makes adding onto it later much more difficult.
Use Pen and Paper, Not a Computer
There are a few reasons I suggest using a pen and paper rather than a computer for thought dumping. First, pen and paper tend to stimulate creativity. Don’t believe me? Here are some people that do!
- Huffpost Healthy Living
- The Guardian
- The Wall Street Journal
- And the ten fabulous storytellers in this list!
Second, pen and paper inhibit distractions. When I begin writing down my ideas, I often have the urge to research these ideas. I want to see if other people have written similar things, or if the idea is plausible following the laws of science. Additionally, I have a tendency to want to fact check and develop these ideas further. However, this is not the point of thought dumping. The goal is to convert ideas from abstract concepts in your mind to concrete words on the page.
What to Write Down
Everything! This is the overall rule for thought dumping. Anything that comes to mind should find a place on the page. However, in case you are looking for something less vague, here is an extensive, (yet not exhaustive) list of the many things you could have ideas for.
- Questions that will need to be answered
- Important facts to establish throughout the story
- Narrative Voice
- Point of View
- Messages you hope your story will convey
- Larger impact of the work
- World Building
- Locations needed for the story
- Locations that have materialized in your mind (i.e. house, beach, post office)
- Specific details of established places
- Magic and/or Technology
- Rituals of the World
- History and How it’s Recorded
- Different Groups of People
- Law Enforcement
- The Political Structure
- The Financial Structure
- The Religious Structure
- (You get the picture)
- Pieces of Dialogue
- Speech Patterns
- Physical Appearance
- Hair Color and Cut
- Eye Color
- Skin Color
- Body Type
- Likes and Dislikes
- Social Status
- Word Count
Hopefully, that list gives you an idea of where to start. But remember, when I say anything I mean ANYTHING from the great plot twist to the smell of a particular food.
Do NOT Censor Your Ideas
You are not allowed to stop yourself from writing anything down (in case I haven’t gotten through to you yet). You think that maybe a talking banana should reveal the location of the buried treasure to your protagonist, who happens to be a koala bear? Write it down! In the thought dump, anything goes! (Seriously, put it on the paper.)
Separate Your Ideas into Categories
When you’ve written down every bit of the story that you can remember, it’s time to evaluate your ideas. The first aspect of this is categorizing each bullet point so that you can quickly refer to the list and find the type of information you’re looking for. In order to do this, I get a bunch of different colored highlighters or pens, and either highlight or underline each with a color that corresponds with the category the bit of information falls under. As far as what categories to include, that’s up to you. I like to keep my categories relatively broad. For me, they tend to be as follows: Plot, World Building, Characters, Themes, and Goals.
Identifying the Keepers
The last part is super easy, and something I love to do. This is the part where you get to judge all of those strange and quirky ideas that you just expelled from your brain onto the page. I label each bullet point using a very complex rating system: 1 means I love it, 2 means I like it, and 3 means I hate it. Pretty tricky, huh? Now, here is the ABSOLUTELY MOST IMPORTANT PART. Do NOT remove ANYTHING!!! Yes, some of your ideas may seem ridiculous, worthless, and even entirely off topic for this project, but that doesn’t mean these things will always be useless. You will be surprised when these ideas become relevant or important, and that might not even be in this story. It could happen when you are writing a story five or ten years from now. Also, looking back at these original ideas may spark other ideas, or maybe you can amend one of those absurd concepts and put it in when your story starts to drag. The point is, DO NOT get rid of anything you’ve written.
So there you have it, thought dumping in a nutshell. Don’t underestimate the importance of thought dumping to the planning process. It is the first time your beautiful idea takes on a life of its own, and that is something to be very proud of and excited about! If you give this method a try, I’d love to hear how it goes. Now go write down those ideas!