Thinking Outside The Box

January 29, 2010 at 5:32 am (Planning, Voice) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’ve always hated that expression – mostly because it gets me wondering why I was put in the box to begin with. Yet most of the time our thoughts are boxed in and closed off. They follow predictable paths they’ve gone over before, never looking beyond the obvious. I don’t like boxes. I have a thought bubble but it is just as restrictive (though prettier because it shimmers all different colours when exposed to sunlight).

As writers it is important that we recognise our bubbles and boxes. If we were to write only what we know then we would never leave our bubbles. Our stories would also get very samey very quickly and we would hopefully get bored with writing it and move on. Our characters would also be very much for muchness and have similar motivations and moral values and thought processes because their writer and creator didn’t stop to think outside of their comfort zone.

How can we think outside our bubble?

  1. Talk to people – all sort of people and find out what they think about things and why.
  2. Read everything. Doesn’t matter if you are interested in it or not. You may just pick up an idea or two that you had never considered.
  3. Practise empathising. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to really think how they might see the world. Try to put your preconceptions aside and really feel as though you had lived a different life.
  4. Sometimes it helps just  to turn everything upside down. Whatever you think, write the opposite. You can tone it down later but just practise being the complete opposite of yourself. It helps to start you thinking about all the possibilities in-between.

How do you start thinking outside your bubble/box?



  1. Tooty Nolan said,

    I think that I’ve probably reached the age where I can no longer recognize the bubble; but I do allow my thoughts to make some acute turns that surprise me, and hopefully take the story in a new direction.

  2. Geoffrey Stokker said,

    Good question…

    I’ve actually been wrestling with trying to get out of the box for the past few days. I’ve come to the conclusion (whether right or wrong) that the majority of fantasy is written based on the Hero’s Journey and that no matter how you try to approach it, there always seems to be some form of that Journey in fantasy. If you look a the Hero’s Journey – they start out almost as an innocent without any strong skills, etc. and they go out into the world, find a mentor and struggle against evil. I know that it’s extremely generalised but that’s basically it in a very small nutshell. You have it in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. and the last thing I want are mine following the same old formula. But how do you get that out-of-the-box story? I suppose David Eddings had it with his Elenium series where the protaganist is a grizzled veteran but if you go that way, then you’re only following in his footsteps.

    It will require a lot of thought.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      There are a lot of journeys going on in fantasy writing but there are variations and even new takes on the journey. Wishing you luck in finding a new approach.

  3. Laura Diamond said,

    Hi there! Excellent topic! I, too, am not a fan of the phrase, however, it is apropos. Seems it not only goes for how we write our characters, it also goes for how we write in general. I was *this close* to finishing my WIP when a kind soul offered a critique. It’s the subtlties that caught me and made my work seem “off.” I’m learning how to see my writing from a different perspective–from outside the box, so to speak.

    Thanks for posting about this topic!!!

  4. Jemi Fraser said,

    Short answer: I teach.

    Being exposed to kids and the adults who care about them on a daily basis shows me so many ways of thinking, creating and dealing with problems. I don’t think too many strong teachers live inside the box – you can’t reach kids when you’re trapped inside 🙂

  5. AlexJ said,

    I was comfortable writing my first book, although I did have to do some research. I hope to venture out more for my next story.

  6. Carol Benedict said,

    I try to stay open to possibilities when I start writing, and sometimes it feels like I’m actually being creative. Then I start feeling uncomfortable with it because it’s too different, and I tinker and cut out scenes, and eventually I end up with a nice, solid box…

  7. Carol Kilgore said,

    Excellent post. The way I start thinking outside the box is to come up with what is exactly opposite to my original thought. Like one of your choices. Then I brainstorm off of that opposite thought. Sometimes this jogs my memory of something else I’ve heard or read and I’ll take off in that direction.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      It does help you get away from the familiar sometimes. You never know where you might end up.

  8. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    I do “opposite day” for my character…one of the techniques you mentioned. It’s great to ‘what if’ ourselves into a new plot scenario.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  9. sandycarl said,

    I once dabbled with writting an adult thriller. I groaned to my writing friend that I’d hit a dead end (no pun intended). Getting inside the bad guy’s head was just too yucky for me. THEN Aaron gave me the wisest advice I’ve heard concerning this — even the bad guys do things because they are doing what they think are right. Outside the box.

  10. Marvin D Wilson said,

    First start thinking. CONSCIOUSLY thinking. Realize the here and now and the limits of your boundaries. Then you can reason you way (with some courage and boldness) how to leap out of your box – or bubble, whatever.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog today,. I’ll be back.

    The Old Silly

  11. Corra McFeydon said,

    I actually don’t have a suggestion for how to think outside my bubble box because I am still very much lodged in mine. I am trying out different genres finally — in reading and in writing.

    Love the suggestion to ‘write the oppostite’ of how I’d normally write.


    from the desk of a writer

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: