Aristotle Returns – Brainstorming with Relationships

Aristotle wrote about brainstorming a couple of thousand years ago. He didn’t call it brainstorming, but “Common Topics” as part of his work on rhetoric. These common topics are relevant today and summarise the use of definitions, relationships, comparisons, testimony and circumstances as tools to use to question our topic and approach it from different perspectives giving off new ideas in the process.

Today we’ll take a look at the use of relationships to help us generate ideas with which to attack our topics.

Asking questions about how the topic interacts with the rest of the world leads to a greater appreciation of X or whatever you want to call your subject. Cause and effect, role in the world,what happens with X, what occurred before X and developments or actions after X are all reflections on the relationship that X has with the rest of the world.

Getting this into some coherent form then, try asking these questions about your subject matter (X marks the spot) :

  • What created or caused X?
  • What is the effect of X?
  • How does X do what it does?
  • Why does X have this effect?
  • What comes before (or after) X?

So, a real life example – alcoholism – so let alcoholism and associated treatment become X for the purpose of generating ideas and here we go:

What causes alcoholism?

alcohol consumption, misuse of alcohol, availability of alcohol (cheap cost and easy to buy), social acceptance of alcohol and tradition of alcohol use

What are the effects of alcoholism?

mood and personality changes, increased absence from work, lack of productivity, destruction of relationships – family, personal, social and work; physical and mental health issues, wider social implications – crime drink driving, theft, violence in particular

Why does alcoholism happen?

function of addiction with human brain – nature of addiction and destructive repetitive behaviour; refer to availability of alcohol ,history and tradition of use and lack of prevention; failure to recognise symptoms of alcoholism

What comes after alcoholism?

personal disaster – family strife – loss of job and financial standing – social cost and effect of alcohol related crime esp drink driving

alcohol rehabilitation – treatment : medical, social and religious – AA, Oxford group, methodists

Now I think I’m going to stop there and I assure you that that was off the top of my mind and took 5 minutes to jot down live into this blog. Already, I have a dozen areas I can use to go and write 500 words on and this is without any real “thinking time” – “Alcoholism and the Social Acceptance of Alcohol Use”; “Medical Rehabilitation of Alcoholics”; “Alcoholism and the Oxford Group” and so on – these are not titles just working areas to focus on.

Looking at a topic from the perspective of relationships helps enormously. Relationships thmselves can be extremely interesting to write about and experience. A relationship rarely takes the form of a straight forward, linear connection unless someone wishes to simplify it. “Mr A is married Mrs A” does not demonstrate the relationship that may have been built after meeting on an aircraft that makes an emergency landing; “Humans need Air” does not describe the physiological processes that occur at the molecular levels with complex haemaeglobin molecules and oxygen/carbobn dioxide transference within our lungs.

Looking at the relationships is in fact something that is probably the most important and complex web around your subject matter. For writers this means relationships are a great source of new ideas and material to write about.