20

Sometimes I have inspiration for a story. In random pieces of spare time I daydream more and more details until I am satisfied with the concept and then I don't take it any farther. In my head, the story is finished and I am satisfied. If I have the urge to write it down and attempt to share it with others, the thing that stops me is that I do not know if anybody would actually read it. I like it, but that doesn't mean others would.

Often, the stories I imagine do not have a "message" or "explore new possibilities" or attempt to "answer important questions" like the meaning of life - they are often fantasy, just exploring a character's path through life.

Since writing is not my profession, I do not need to write, and I find myself thinking that the world doesn't need another amateur story lying around.

How should I decide whether a story is actually worth writing out and sharing with others?

  • 4
    I've heard it said that a typical professional photographer takes hundreds, sometimes thousands, of shots for every one that gets published or printed. Why should writing be any different? Just write. – cobaltduck Jul 10 '15 at 13:53
  • "just exploring a character's path through life." What is important to the character? Are the same things important to you? Treat the character's feelings about those things seriously, consider them carefully. From that, meaning will arise naturally. – recognizer Jul 10 '15 at 16:20
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    @cobaltduck: Why should writing be any different? Maybe because it is different. You can take a hundred photographs in an hour, but writing even a single draft of a short story can take a few days at the very least. – Mason Wheeler Jul 10 '15 at 17:42
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    “Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Taegost Jul 10 '15 at 18:59
  • Have you ever watched the Hallmark or Lifetime TV channels? Or read a romance novel? There's tons of stuff that people enjoy and pay good money for which doesn't answer life's greatest questions. Also, when you do write these things, the practice will improve your writing so that when you do have something "important" to say, you will be that much more able to say it effectively. – Joe Jul 14 '15 at 21:25

14 Answers 14

12

Most books I loved did not have any overt message. It was mostly by accident, and not the author's design, that I happened to find something that resonated with me.

If you have a story that feels relevant enough to yourself that you want to invest the time and effort to write it, do so. If you write it well, others will enjoy it, too.

13

To be honest, until a story passes a certain threshold of completeness I don't think it can be determined if it is worthwhile or not. Pretty much every awesome plot can be summarized in a way that sounds dumb, and every lame plot can be made to sound interesting; so the storyline alone is not enough to decide. In fact, I think that none of the other elements of a story such as characters, dialog and narration alone are enough to determine the potential. It's the tuning of each of them to the right balance that makes it good.

A good writer can make a silly idea entertaining and a bad writer can turn a genius idea into a slog that only those I-have-to-finish-this-book-because-I-started-it people will ever complete (you know who you are). So I say start all your ideas and really flesh out the story and characters. Once you've gotten into it a ways, you'll know which ones are keepers and which ones are the stinkers.

But how do you know which one is the best one to spend time fleshing out? Just go with your gut. You probably already have an idea of which one is your favorite. ;)

  • Yeah. Long ago, I went to see Zabriskie Point (a fair B movie) in a theater. At the end, just before everybody left, someone called out, "Boy meets girl in dessert." and cracked up the entire audience. – Joe Jul 14 '15 at 21:35
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    Sounds delicious. What kind of dessert, @Joe? Cakes? Puddings? – can-ned_food Mar 19 '18 at 16:16
  • Outch! Humble pie. – Joe Mar 19 '18 at 19:59
9

A story does not have to have a profound message that will change the life of everyone who reads it for it to be worth writing.

There are many things that can make a story worthwhile. Sure, if you have some truly profound message that you want to relate, that's great. But really, the purpose of most stories is just to be interesting or entertaining.

Frankly, many stories that try to convey a life-changing message are total failures, and simply come across as pretentious and heavy-handed. Not that "message stories" AREN'T worth writing, just that they take a great deal of skill to pull off. But a simple, fun story of action, adventure, romance, etc, can be very satisfying to many people.

7

If you are not in it for the money, just make sure you enjoy telling the story. If it is not fun, don't bother.

5

Try it! If you enjoy writing, write. If you don't, stick with what you're doing, because it seems to work for you.

5

I don't remember who; but someone once compared the urge to write with a tumour. I understand that you'd get along just fine without having to put pen to paper. A couple hours of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and you won't feel like delving deep into your soul to reach out for that story anymore. A few minutes of TV is always a better idea, right?

Well, I can assure you that one day the story will come to haunt you. For those of us who find solace in writing, nothing except sitting down on our typewriter and slogging away those daylight hours gives us peace of mind (or clarity of mind, for some).

I don't know if it's the same with you, but when I get an idea for a story, I let it build inside me. daydream more and more details, as you define it. I let the story and characters possess me to the point of lunacy. Just like a tumour, you see. Until I realise that I have to rid myself of it. And so I write. Not for others, but because I have to.

Don't write for others. Write for yourself. Write not for striking a chord with others. Write to quench your own thirst.

5

Here are my three steps:

The test of time: Keep the story in your head for a couple of weeks. Does it come back to you when you're not thinking about it? Is it becoming more and more appealing over time instead of losing its charm? If the answer is yes, move on to the next step.

The test of execution. Write the story down. Did it work? Did the idea create a story as beautiful as the idea itself? If the answer is yes, proceed...

The test of people: Post your story online. Did people like it? Did they use words like impressive, funny, or awesome? If the answer is yes, publish it. Share your amazing story to the world.

By the way, I agree with the rest. You don't need a "message". A story doesn't need a message to be meaningful. It just has to connect with the reader's heart (and yours as well).

3

Write out a few and share them. You may be completely wrong about the market.

A tale which "explores a character's path through life" but not much else happens is called a character study, and those are legitimately literature. (And movies sometimes too, c.f. A Room with a View.)

3

First, good stories tend to keep pestering you until you put it down in words. Bad stories seem blessed with inertia.

Second, I read a great book by Nanci Atwell about how to teach writing to students. She used the rule of "So What?" for students. Why is this story important or worth reading? New writers tend to write about things without having a clear idea about why this story is important enough to write. Obviously, people may disagree about what's important and what's not, but the writer should have a good idea about why it is.

Personal remarks. I'm a midcareer writer and I have a great sense of what stories are worth the time to write (your writing time is always limited, and you don't want to waste this precious resource on stories which ultimately don't matter). On the other hand, I've begun certain stories without really being sure if the story would work. Sometimes I got majorly stuck and spent a lot of brain cells trying to make it work. Several of those iffy stories became my most successful -- if only because I was trying things outside my comfort zone.

By the way, I often think of good premises for stories and characters, but often it's not enough. A good writer recognizes the difference between something which is a great premise (what if all teachers were 20 feet tall?) and a premise which can actually be fleshed into a plot and development of character.

There is value in doing a writing exercise, but mostly I try avoid doing gimmicky-like things to maximize my time on stories which really matter to me.

2

Why do you write?

  • For fun? In that case every story is worthwhile as explored by most of the other answers.
  • For readers? In that case read on.
  • To improve yourself? In that case of course every story is worthwhile, but you need to act as if you are writing for readers.

What do you wish to achieve?

Now, personally I have always classified two different goals a work can typically have (actually three, but won't get into the third goal, as it's just too much of a hassle and not relevant now):

  • To share a message? Well, obviously you don't, but in that case it's always worthwhile to write the story if the message is important enough to you.
  • To make readers enjoy themselves/experience emotions they wish to experience and can't normally experience? In that case the question does become whether people will read it. Is the story unique and/or good enough that people will be willing to read it? Achieving this isn't even necessarily a question of skill. For example a lot of people write fanfics where the readership is higher than one would expect given the skill level of the authors.

So no, I disagree with the other answers which in my humble opinion sometimes give a slightly simple answer. Often it might not be worthwhile just writing any story you think of. If you want to become good enough to reach readers it is necessary to think about whether your story is unique and/or good enough. And yes, that might mean disregarding a lot of stories and changing others.

1

Write it as a short story!

Really strip it down and make it short and concise leaving only the essential parts and make it light to read. This will give you a fast result, which you can post to a writing community and which will have good chances to get read and reviewed. And if the story premise and everything is really good and attracts good reviews you can flesh it out and rewrite it as a novella or something like a short book.

1

In addition to the other fine answers, consider: Every story you write is practice. No matter what else happens, you can learn from the experience.

So if you want to get better at writing stories, and you want to practice, a story can be worth writing just for that.

1

A writer never writes to please someone. It is something which is done to share experience and imagination. If writing is something that gives you satisfaction, then go for it. Do not hesitate in writing. Write whatever you like and just publish it.

1

It might help to keep a journal with your writing ideas in it. When you have an idea in your head, write down as much as you can about it.

Then you would have the ability to go back to your journal and revisit your ideas. If you see something that you would like to write more about, go for it.

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