After spending the weekend at a writer’s festival www.festivalofgoldenwords.com my mind has come back brimming with ideas. Ideas about characters, stories, plots, with so many scenes playing themselves out inside my head I can’t sleep!
One thing I did learn, and was somewhat a common theme, is that the most important decision a writer will ever make is which story to write. Sometimes that will be an easy decision: the right story can, at times, be staring you in the face. But sometimes the choices can be overwhelming.
So how do you choose?
This is never a decision for any of us to make lightly. Whatever story we choose is one we’re going to be spending an extra lot of intimate time with. If we choose the wrong story, we could end up wasting time and expending untold frustration on the project. But if we choose the right story, we’ll be embarking on an exciting and fulfilling journey that will help us grow as writers and hopefully produce a book we can share with others.
The following are some thoughts that I brought home with me.
1. Look Beyond the Premise
If your story doesn’t have a great premise, you shouldn’t be writing it. But a great premise, by itself doesn’t make a great story. Where do you see this premise leading you? What kind of characters will populate this story? What will they be seeking? Who will be opposing them? What kind of world will they be living in?
2. Realize Loving Parts of a Story Isn’t Enough
Let’s say you have an idea for a story and you love the setting and the interaction between the characters, but, the suspense created simply doesn’t interest you too much. Before you commit to a story, you need to love everything about it. Think through the ramifications of your premise. Are you going to have fun and be able to maintain interest throughout all its logical progressions? Or will you grow bored with some aspects?
3. Make Your Own Head Explode
If you’re going to have any chance of blowing your readers’ minds, then first you have to blow your own. A story can be a great idea in itself, but if it doesn’t thrill you, then you need to question whether you’re going to have enough passion to see it through. Ask yourself: Is this a story you were meant to write? Is this a story you can’t not write? If the answer to either is no, then you might want to rethink.
4. Look for Characters With Strong Voices and Interaction
Not every seemingly great story idea comes complete with the rest of the trappings necessary to make a great book. Think about your characters. Are they already so vibrant in your head that you can sense they’ll have unique and powerful voices on the page? Will they be memorable and definitive? Will they interact with each other in meaningful and important ways? A great premise that lacks great characters is going nowhere fast.
5. Look for a Bigger Story
Most of my story ideas start out with the interaction between two characters. But, by itself, that’s not enough to fill a whole book. Consider your ideas. Can you sense the weight of a bigger story beneath the surface? What are the stakes? Who else will these characters end up affecting through their interaction with each other? If you can’t at least sense the possibility for greater depth, then the idea may not have enough strength to carry itself.
6. Figure Out What Kind of Story It Will Be
You’ve figured out your premise and your characters. So far, so good. But do you know what type of story you want this to be? Don’t sit down to write a story without knowing what you’re trying to create. Understand your story’s tone, from start to finish, into a cohesive whole. If you lack that understanding of your story, you won’t be able to create the cohesion and focus you want it to have.
7. There’s a lot to be said for instinct
Don’t Be OCD! I admit it: I like to do things in order, including story ideas. But just because a story idea is the next one in line doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one to be writing at this time. Get in touch with your instincts. Which story feels right? And, more importantly, which ones don’t feel right?
No matter how much consideration we invest in choosing our next writing project, we won’t always be able to predict which stories will be successful for us and which won’t. But by considering these factors, we can at least eliminate some of the ideas that definitely aren’t ready to be written.