Thursday, March 23

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, March 23, 2017 3 comments
Jot in its verb form means “to write something quickly.” In its noun form, it means “a very small amount.” Put them together and you have a brainstorming method that’s all about brevity and speed. You simply come up with as many ideas as you can quickly and record them.

Where you’re working may dictate how you choose to record your jots. You can keep similarly themed jots on a journal page, store them in a memo program on your phone, or put jots on individual notecards.

Jots can be a wonderful precursor to any other brainstorming technique. Jotting is especially helpful for preparing to diagram (aka mind-map), a way of visually organizing ideas.

Jotting can be approached through a macro or micro approach, depending where you are in the process of writing. Generally, early in the process, you’ll need to jot broad ideas, and later, details.

Macro-level jotting exercises

Write as many possible answers to the following questions as fast as you can

  • Who is my main character, inside and out?
  • What is this story actually about? What's the themeatic thrust? (e.g. love, risk, healing, community, maturation, etc.) 
  • What is the nature of my hero’s journey? Away from what and toward what?
  • What other kinds of characters does this story need?
  • What events might happen in this story?
  • What elements does my setting need?
  • What possible outcomes or resolutions would fit this story?
  • How can I make this story unique?
  • What might this story be about thematically?
  • What do I need to research to make this story believable?

Micro-level jotting exercises

Tackle any of the questions below, focusing on unwritten parts of the story, places where you’re stuck, or revision problems. Generate as many possible ideas as you can quickly.


  • What are my characters' their deepest wounds, beliefs, needs and fears?
  • What are their weaknesses, vices, pet peeves, and dislikes? 
  • What are their passions, dreams, core competencies, and interests?
  • What important past experiences have shaped them?
  • What key relationships have helped and/or harmed them?
  • How do secondary characters relate to primary ones?


  • How does my character sound? Formal or informal? Intellectual, moderately educated, street-smart, down-home, innocent/naive, or mentally challenged?
  • What key phrases does s/he use often? What colorful slang, expletives, or axioms does s/he use?
  • What words would s/he never use? 
  • What is the rhythm of his/her speech? Is it forceful, terse, rambling, melodic, hesitant, stuttering?
  • How dominant or passive is s/he in conversation?
  • How direct or indirect is s/he in expressing appreciation, affection, needs, wants, dissatisfaction or anger?
  • What methods does s/he use to persuade others? 


  • What is my protagonist’s ultimate goal? How might it change in the course of the story?
  • What natural obstacles might block my protagonist? 
  • What are unusual obstacles that might fit my story world?
  • What are obvious ways to overcome the obstacles? What are unusual or unexpected ways to overcome the obstacles?
  • How can I best harness relationships to drive the story actions?
  • What are the absolute worst things that could happen to this particular protagonist?
  • What solutions would create the most inner conflict for my protagonist?


  • What place would provide the most useful backdrop to my characters and plot?
  • What unique features of the setting shape my characters?
  • What unique features of my setting could provide catalysts for my plot?
  • What home environment would my character set up for him/herself?


  • What virtues will I advocate and reward? 
  • What vices will I criticize and punish? 
  • What symbols best illustrate my theme?
  • What other literature or films can I allude to that have elements that could support my theme?


  • Where are my characters behaving in ways that seem to not fit the situation: overreacting, underreacting, or otherwise veering from a truly natural reaction?
  • Where do my characters seem boring? What aspects of their inner worlds and relationships could I play up in those scenes? 
  • What characters aren’t pulling their weight? How could I eliminate them or combine them with an existing character?
  • What plot elements feel out of the blue? How could I better prepare for them?
  • Where does the story feel rushed? Where could I add breathing room? Which relationship or plot point could be built in a quiet scene?
  • Where is the story dragging? What extraneous material could be cut to speed up the pacing? Where could a complication or crisis be added?
  • Where is the tension falling flat? What are some ways I can raise questions, raise stakes or raise conflict?

Post-jot processing

Sort your jots by topic, gathering related material. If you worked with notecards, simply separate jots into distinct piles. If you jotted on larger paper on into a device, you may wish to transfer the information as you sort it.  First identify the ideas that excite you most. Next determine which ideas might have potential. Finally, identify the clunkers.

Once you’ve pared down to the best ideas, continue developing them using one of the following brainstorming techniques. As needed, go back to the “has potential” pile.

How might you make use of jot brainstorming? What part of the story planning process is most challenging for you?


  1. I've always wanted to write a story but I always end up thinking too much about everything. Overthinking things is a lifestyle, lol. I guess this rather quick method of brainstorming is the best kind.

    1. Give it a shot and see where it takes you. :-)

  2. What if I don't have an excess of ideas to jot down? Unlike many writers, I struggle to flesh out a story. Should I view this as a shopping list to fill out, so to speak?