September 7, 2011

story instincts

So, you know how last week, I talked about my next project being Princes, Princesses, and Peasants, Oh My!? Well, now I’m not so sure. Over the weekend, I did a lot of thinking and word-fumbling. I had several people ask me what the story was about, and would you believe, I couldn’t get it across within three sentences. After the first two or three explanations of three or four paragraphs to each individual, trying to insert as much detail as possible to get them to see how interesting it was, without giving away the key plot points, I decided that I would just respond “It’s too complicated.” And that’s when I realized that maybe this isn’t the story I need to write. Maybe it isn’t as good as I thought it was. Or—and this one is probably the right answer—it’s not the story I need to write now.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I first started writing, I tackled the most difficult story my little teenage brain could think of. I have no doubt that it was a good idea. However, the execution was poorly done. At that time in my writing career, I was not a good enough writer to bring that story to life. I know I’m still not a good enough writer for it. I could write it, but it would be as good as if I wrote it five or ten years from now, when I have several novels already under my belt.

I think that may be what has happened with PPPOM. Yes, I plotted it fantastically, but after several failed attempts at explaining the plot to people, I figure that maybe it isn’t the story I should write at the moment. I think that maybe I was wanting to write so badly that I just took the first idea that looked good and committed to it. Now, I think it was the wrong decision. It’s a gut feeling.

I lucked out with the steampunk novel. It was a right time, right place sort of thing. It just so happened that the story was challenging enough to help me grow as a writer, but it was within my reach to write effectively. My next project needs to do the same thing—something ambitious, yet attainable.

Now, as you may know, I have several book ideas floating around in this head of mine. Some of them, I deemed not-so-good, and even fewer, good. A total of twenty-five novels (that have premises). Whether they are good or not depends a lot on my gut feeling. Not any writer can write any book. Some ideas work better for certain authors. I could just delete any story that I think doesn’t fit my bill, but I keep them in my Not-So-Good folder for story fodder. Maybe an idea I had for that regency romance might work better in that time-travel adventure, or the main character from that space opera might work better in the epic fantasy I haven’t thought of yet. Even though these stories failed, I can still use their bits and pieces in the future.

My biggest problem is figuring out what to write next. That time-travel adventure is calling my name, but I don’t know if I have the experience to write it well yet. It’s definitely ambitious (as any time-travel novel is), and I think that I can manage to write it effectively. But there is this niggling feeling that I’m not quite ready. Once I determine whether that niggle is mild apprehension or stomach-turning doubt, I’ll be able to determine whether or not it’s the story I should write. With the steampunk novel, it was mild apprehension. With the epic fantasy I started however many years ago, it’s the doubt. I think that the time-travel adventure is somewhere in the middle, but until I figure that I out, I can’t exactly start writing.

The only think I can do now is plot. I already know that I can condense the time-travel adventure into one sentence, easily conveyed to readers: “Moonlighting as a time-traveling thief, a charismatic archaeologist voyages through time, stealing newly minted artifacts of the past and staging dig sites to discover in the present.” All I can do is see where the story takes me. If it turns out to be something that I can write (without becoming as convoluted and confusing as PPPOM), then by-golly, I’ll write it. The more I think about it, the more that the niggling feeling leans toward mild apprehension.

Now I just need a codename…

How do you decide which story is right for you? Do you keep your “bad” ideas, or do you throw them away? Have you ever started a project and realized somewhere along the way that it wasn’t the story you wanted to write?


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  2. I like to keep all my story ideas for the reason you mentioned. I can write down an idea then manipulate it later for a different story.

    Apprehension and doubts are understandable. It's possible that you've got so much for PPPOM that it may take a bit more writing to break it down into a 2 to 3 sentence blurb. However, following your gut is best.

  3. Angela, you may be right about that. I may just need to work a bit more on PPPOM. I think the main thing wrong is that the central conflict is rather... mild. But I don't want to throw in explosions and giant robots just because. That, and I think that maybe my characters aren't all that interesting... :/

  4. Kind of like you, I start with a character. If I can take the raw character idea and breath some life into it (enough that I want to write about him or her), then I start making notes and writing short scenes. If it works, it just takes off. If it doesn't, I put it aside and let it germinate for a while. All my ideas are like this, actually. Eventually I've mulled one over in the back of my mind long enough that I can figure out what it needs to work. That's when I start writing.

  5. Oh man. When that story needs to come out, nothing will stop it. Nothing.