Do you think brainstorming makes a difference? At university, I threw in bizarre brainstorm ideas to look quick-witted. Everything goes, right? My professor jotted down my brainstorms, then erased them, squinting and shaking his head. The class howled and heckled, puffed up with one up on the apple shiner.
Today, I glorify lists. Lists for cracking new jokes. Lists for forming first-time metaphors. Lists for hatching unheard-of ads. In short, lists for breaking new ground. So, dig out that shopping list clogging your toilet pipes??cause I’ve got four tattered books for you.
I made my brainstorming style from these four first-class authors:
- Pat Pattison, author of Song-Writing Without Boundaries;
- Pete Barry, author of The Advertising Concept Book;
- and Joe Toplyn, author of Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV.
- And now, I add to the list Elizabeth Sims, author of You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams.
Now, let’s sift through their list-styles, one-by-one:
First, let’s study Pat Pattison:
Pat makes music out of metaphors?literally. Let’s tap into his style for metaphor-making. To start, pinpoint a theme, say, a noun like toilet pipes. Next, lists traits of toilet pipes. For example, toilet pipes overflow. Then, list other things that overflow, such as traffic. Then list features of traffic, such as “Rush hour” and “backed up.” Now, you’ve got the guts of a metaphor.
Let’s peek at our polished metaphor for “toilet pipes”: “Inhale the exhaust of public toilet pipes, overflowing. Rush hour. Stuck seated, buckled, as engines choke and gas runs dry.”
Pattison’s advice could jazz up your essays with extended metaphors, titles using metaphors, or opening line metaphors.
Now, let’s examine Pete Barry:
Pete’s a professor of advertising. Here’s how he makes mind maps for ads: First, put a product benefit in the middle of a blank page. An example benefit could be “our dark chocolate has a hint of love.”
Next, list words related to “a hint of love.” For instance, you might refer to heart-red packaging. Or to the love of super sweet super foods. Or to a loved-one cured from cancer through a high-antioxidant (dark chocolate) diet.
Then, circle the ideas ripe with potential. Use them to craft headlines, visuals, and slogans.
For example, take “cure for cancer.” Perhaps show a close-up of a mother packing snacks in a pouch. Switch to a long-shot of a teenage girl cancer survivor, cycling a marathon, dripped in sweat, the pouch strapped to her tummy. Zoom in to her fingers pulling out a dark chocolate bar in shiny red wrap. The slogan reads, “a hint of love.”
Pete Barry can help your essays answer the “so what?” question. His mind-map tricks also help you craft catchy titles, subtitles, and visuals.
Next, Elizabeth Sims:
Elizabeth writes novels improv style?literally. She says, act like an improv actor when making plots. In other words, start with “What if?” and follow with a “Yes, and ? .” Keep listing “What if?” and “Yes, and ?” scenarios, rejecting nothing.
For instance, you could plot, What if a cat thought it was human? Yes, and the cat learned to say, “Hello, Mate.” Yes, and what if the cat got a shave and a sailor tattoo? Yes, and what if the cat scratched out the captain’s only eye?
Elizabeth Sim’s improv style can help you create fiction openers for essays and presentations.
Lastly, let’s admire the style of Joe Toplyn:
Joe cracks jokes for late night TV. Better yet, he wrote a comedy book that can fetch you a contract with Conan O?Brien?literally. Joe’s approach to brainstorming stands at number one on my top-ten list.
Joe’s comedy style? He takes a fact (or even an essay topic) and zeroes in on two of its big ideas. For instance, take the fact “Research shows that yellow, rotten bananas share DNA in common with humans.”
From that, you could craft the joke “A study shows that yellow, rotten bananas share DNA in common with humans. After careful consideration, Justin Trudeau now claims that humans evolved from his 70s BFF, Big Bird.”
I followed Joe’s approach for crafting the joke. To start, I extracted two big ideas from the lead-in (the first sentence of the joke): (1) bananas and (2) human DNA. So, for both bananas and human DNA, I listed words and phrases that came to mind. For “bananas,” the words “yellow” and “rotten” came to mind. For “human DNA,” I wondered what a yellow, rotten human DNA might create?maybe a man dressed as Big Bird. I added a current event for fun: Justin Trudeau hugging a panda teddy bear on a kid’s shows. Seriously, the guys too busy with his puppets to make national policy.
Joe has at least five other ways to craft punchlines. One approach involves taking a fact (or even an essay topic) and asking an obvious question of it. For instance, take the fact “Studies shows that rotten bananas share a small percentage of DNA in common with humans.”
From that you could craft the joke, “Studies show that rotten bananas share a small percentage of DNA in common with humans. A further study shows they share 100% with Kim Jong Un.” My obvious question for the lead-in was “What doesn’t share DNA with humans?” The answer? Someone inhuman. Kim Jong Un came to mind.
Joe Toplyn’s lists can help you crack jokes for presentations and essay openers—late-night style.
So, now you’ve got tip-top brainstorming tricks to trail-blaze any idea—for any deed. (Chowder-proof toilet pipes, anyone?)
Best of all, you can jumble together the authors’ styles to one up the apple polisher—with brain hurricanes. A paradox? I call it a creative spark!