How do you decide which story idea to start next?
Some people I’ve talked with say that they are able to follow their burning passion from one idea to the next. It’s as though the Muse points out the topic with a glowing finger, and writers simply jump to the next project.
Okay, I’m oversimplifying here, but you get the idea. Sometimes you “feel” it. You have an idea inside you that you just have to get out on paper or on the computer.
Other times, you have too many ideas. How do you whittle away the rest of the choices and find the most fulfilling option?
(We’ll take a look next week at what to do when you have no ideas.)
When All Things Seem Equal
Trying to pick out the next story you’ll work on can be a mentally paralyzing experience. Doubts begin to fill your mind about every potential project, and you see several reasons to avoid each project. But if you never decide, you won’t have the opportunity to tell any of your stories.
If art were not such a personal endeavor, I’d recommend beginning each project for the course of about a week or so and then evaluate which one interests you the most. But I always abandon the process early on once I’ve found a project I enjoy.
The truth of the matter is that your art should capture your imagination. It should disrupt your processes since you have a story that you must tell. The entire point of any processes we discuss here is to unveil that passion in the form of a story.
If you’re deadlocked and can’t decide which story idea to try, here are two quick tips to help. We’ll explore each idea more below.
- Develop the logline.
- Start the research.
If you want to get others involved, try developing each idea enough to develop the logline or the quick pitch. Imagine that you’re trying to convince a book publisher or a movie producer to back you on your next project. You only get a few seconds to sell them on your project. What can you say about each potential story to whet their appetites?
Once you figure out the pitch, try it with your friends. Would they be interested in reading story idea 1 or story idea 2?
I’ve tried this before, and I’ve quickly discovered how little I had thought my ideas through when friends pressed for more detail. Do your homework and avoid the stammering.
Remember, storytelling is as much about the telling as it is developing the effective hook. Just because you can viewers / readers in the door doesn’t mean that they’ll finish consuming your story. If you can create compelling characters and engaging plot, people are more willing to trust you on your project because of the quality of your work.
Coming up with the perfect hook is an essential part of storytelling, but it is only a part.
Another way to test your interest on potential story ideas is to begin some of the necessary research. If it’s a historical piece, start reading up on the time period. If it’s a plot that depends on a piece of scientific knowledge, read up on that info to make sure that your plot can stand. Getting the research wrong (or not researching at all) on something like a hard science fiction tale could cause a complete disconnect with your audience.
Dangers of Guessing the Market
Some writers base their next project around whatever genre is hot at the moment. YA novels are certainly getting plenty of attention at the moment due to several books successfully launching Hollywood blockbusters like Hunger Games and Twilight, so writers might jump on the YA train in hopes of striking gold. The problem here is that you may not be wired to write for the young adult crowd. You might not be able to relate to the particular audience you’re seeking, and it will show in your writing.
Another problem with trying to guess the market is the same problem that many of the gold-seekers had in the great gold rush in America. By the time you’ve finished your journey (written your novel, screenplay, etc.), all of the gold may already be gone. The market might have moved on to the next big thing. YA novels are likely still going to be popular, but story ideas like vampires, sci-fi, and fantasy all have varying shelf lives.
Your Passion Project
Maybe you have a passion project idea mixed in with several “safer bets” in your queue of possible story ideas, and you’re just not certain that you can pull off your big idea. I’m not suggesting that you make a thousand-page novel your first attempt at writing. You need to have skills built up before launching into such enormous tasks, but you might be able to play with the same idea in a 10-page short story.
Simply entering the world of your characters can give you endless insights into the struggles they might face and all of the plot twists that you can build into a longer piece of fiction.
Get Away from Your Computer
Some of the suggestions here have already included this idea, but it is worth stating separately. Get away from your computer during this time of decision.
Yes, you’ll need to do some research, and you may want to go ahead and writer out some log lines for various story ideas. But sometimes you have to get away from the computer and take time to think.
Get outside. Go walking. Find some shade, and sit in the grass. You never know what you’ll see. For example, I found the home of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles outside my office. (Eat your heart out, Michael Bay.)
Is the weather unfriendly? Then go walking in a shopping mall or do some people-watching in an airport.
Moments of inspiration can come to you in a variety of places, but they can be difficult to find when you can be so easily distracted by the Internet.
What about You?
Have any tips? How have you decided which project to start next?
Do you usually have too many ideas, or are you grasping to find any idea that you can use for a story?
Photo Credit: nerovivo