Brainstorming exercises for writing a story.

Some questions to answer before one begins writing

Provisional workflow

  1. Imagine a setting.
  2. What sort of story would that setting support? Pick a genre.
  3. What types of scenes does that genre require? What types of characters are necessary? Perhaps utilize some tropes.
  4. Write a list of chapter titles made of a word or short phrase. Write a one sentence summary of the chapter. This list should resemble the table of contents found in some editions of Moby Dick, Don Quixote, or Le Morte d'Arthur.
  5. Write a very rough draft of the last chapter. Write a very rough draft of the first chapter. Maybe a middle chapter?
  6. Write the rest.
  7. Revise.

Literary genres

A coming-of-age novel.
Captivity narrative
A form of colonial literature in which the protagonist is held captive by uncivilized enemies, and often including a theme of redemption by faith despite threats and temptation of an alien way of life.
Campus novel
Set on a college campus, often satirizing the intellectual pretensions and human weaknesses of members of the campus hierarchy. Examples include Giles Goat-Boy and Lucky Jim.
Cautionary tale
A (often folkloric) narrative designed to warn its audience about some real or imagined danger, or to warn against the non-conformity with social norms. Often aimed at young people.
Epistolary novel
Novel written in the form of letters or diary entries. Dracula is an epistolary novel.
Fashionable novel
Nineteenth century novels which depicted the lives of the "fashionable" upper class (mainly in England). They were partially aspirational, but also something in the nature of scandal sheets. Readers might speculate as to the identities of the persons on whom the characters were based.
A textbook or magic, or a sort of cookbook of spells.
More often applied to a type of character than a genre, in literature a grotesque is something the provokes both disgust and pity. The Phantom of the Opera is one example, although the grotesque is often used by Southern Gothic writers such as Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor.
Imaginary voyage
A fictional travel account, often either utopian or satirical in nature. Examples include Utopia and Gulliver's Travels.
Industrial novel
A type of Victorian social novel which portrays the plight of the urban working poor during the Industrial Revolution. The works of Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell often had significant element of the industrial novel.
Pourquoi story
An origin story that explains why something is the way it is, like how the tiger got its stripes. Many of Kipling's Just So Stories are porquoi stories.
Romans de gare
Also called airport novels. Long, fast-paced novels which to not require much concentration, ideal amusements for a train or plane trip. The term is mildly pejorative.

Selected references