I went on an authors retreat this weekend. Three of my buddies and I gathered in a cozy space in downtown Austin where we wrote, did 20-minute sprints, and brainstormed about our respective stories.
One of the best outcomes for me was choosing a punishment for my dark fantasy characters whose actions had resulted in the deaths of others. I knew the punishment would have to be delivered in a dramatic way (read: public and gruesome) that would inflict maximum physical and emotional pain for my character. It had to be consistent with the parameters of my story, support the protagonist's arc, and be symbolic of the society in which she lives—all this while escalating the stakes.
That sounds like a lot, but that's the nature of story development, and my fellow writers delivered when we sat down for a brainstorming session. On explaining what I was struggling with and the rules of the world in which my characters live, one of the writers mentioned giving her a scar. I liked this idea, because of the potential. A scar would stay with the character emotionally, as well as physically, and symbolize the extent of the crime she had allegedly committed.
But what kind of scar? More discussion, and one of the others suggested a brand. I loved this idea—again, because of the potential emotional struggles and story conflicts.
But I had one more obstacle. If I were to brand my character, a supernatural healer, not just any old brand would work. It had to match the severity of her crime and be particularly unforgiving. So we talked it out, and my third writer friend offered the winning method of agony… Bingo! My friends are far more evil than they think!
In the end, what final punishment did I choose? Well, you'll have to read the book when it comes out.
I'm fortunate to have a close circle of writers who will brainstorm with me. The minute I resolved the stumbling block in my head, the chapter cascaded out of me in 2,000-words. We are the masters of our writerly kingdoms, but when you get road-blocked about what comes next, the ability to brainstorm with people who are invested in your story and your writing success is one of the most valuable things you can have. Do you brainstorm?