Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Brainstorming: Good for Creative Writing, Not for 24/7 Cable News

by Wendy Tokunaga


Like most people I’ve been fascinated (and saddened) by the mystery of the Malaysian airliner that went missing on March 8. And I’ve also been intrigued by the speculation on exactly what might have happened. Because of the extraordinary situation and the fact that so much is unknown, 24/7 cable news outlets like CNN have been piling on the theories with little or no hard information to back them up. Suppositions and assumptions are the name of the game and ratings only increase as tantalizing new scenarios are pulled out of a hat.

Did the jet turn into a “ghost” or “zombie” plane? Was it struck by a meteor? Or what if it were sabotage by the pilot? After all, he had a flight simulator at home. Had he rehearsed this scenario weeks or months before? Was he in cahoots with terrorists who wanted to use the plane for nefarious purposes at a later time? Did he land the jet at a hidden airstrip in a top-secret location? What if the passengers were still alive but unable to contact loved ones?

And what about that mysterious phone call the pilot made right before the plane took off? He also had close ties with an opposition leader in Malaysia who had recently been arrested on a sodomy charge that could have been a frame-up by those currently in power. And what about the fact that his family moved out of their house the day before the incident? Did he have serious personal problems that led him to commit suicide and cause an intentional crash?

Or was he a hero? Did he divert that plane off course because of smoke or some other problem in the cockpit to get closer to where he could make an emergency landing? Did he fly at a lower altitude, not to avoid detection, but to try and save the lives of the passengers?

These theories and unanswered questions remind me of what I do when I’m brainstorming plot points, character motivations, conflicts and complications for a novel. I open up a document and write a series of “what if” and “why” questions. Then I’ll put it away and read it another day and add to the list. At this point nothing is too outlandish to delete; I just let my imagination run wild. Eventually I pare it down to something more focused and throw out what I don’t need. While it might not work for every writer, it’s what works for me.

I’m not so sure it works well for the news. And, of course, I’m dealing with fiction.

Girlfriends, do you use brainstorming techniques when you write your novels? Do you think there’s a place for theorizing on the news?


Find me at:
Twitter: @Wendy_Tokunaga

11 comments:

  1. Wendy, yes and no. Yes to how I think...and the arrows of possibility shoot every which way. Not so much on whether the news should be theorizing...there is so much disinformation already...but I like you, was also fascinated and had my own theory...North Korea..after reading The Orphan Master's Son....

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  2. Ah, North Korea! I forgot about that one.

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  3. I figured it was diverted to Pakistan. As for CNN, I think they would do better if they spent more of their time covering other stories rather than sitting on this one as fascinating and tragic as it is.

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  4. I tend toward brainshowers or drizzles---for some reason, trying to brainstorm alone is an exercise in futility for me! I did find the theories surrounding the missing plane intriguing, but I mostly felt sorry for the relatives who had to endure all of it.

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    1. Drizzles—love it! Yes, I can't imagine how these relatives have been coping when the story changes hourly and nothing seems to stick.

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  5. Interestingly I've only heard dribs and drabs about this flight. I generally have to tune out most stimuli when I'm writing. I remember a time when an event like this would lead to one or more movies of the week. I assume that someday a documentary will come from this. Or it could be like Amelia Earhart - a permanent unknown.

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    1. Sylvie, you sound like a disciplined writer. I think I've been spending too much time surmising about this flight and not enough time writing! And, yes, this could be a mystery that never gets solved, though in recent years there have been promising developments in the Earhart case.

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  6. My brain runs amok with these things Wendy! That's the fate of writers! Sometimes I have to reign it in...okay, most of the time...

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    1. Running amok—that's what happens to me too!

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