23

I struggle with forming full-fledged ideas. I'll come up with a snippet of an idea, have a hard time fleshing the idea out, and then lose interest before the idea becomes an actual story concept.

Sometimes, I'll begin forming an idea, and then realize that the story wouldn't appeal to me as a reader, despite the fact that I have interest in it as a writer.

If I wouldn't want to read the story, is writing it still a good idea?

Edit: The idea in question is a fantasy concept. The reason I don't think I'd want to read it is because the fantasy genre doesn't tend to appeal to me in literature.

  • 2
    If you could identify what it is about fantasy that does not appeal, maybe you could construct a form of fantasy that appeals to you? – Matthew Brown aka Lord Matt Jun 20 at 11:55
20

Why to abandon an idea

In considering the question of whether or not you should write an idea you don’t like, my instinct would be no. If you don’t like it, it will show in the writing. If you are bored writing it, you can guarantee that your reader will be bored reading it. How excited you are by a project always comes across on the page.

Why to press on with an idea

All ideas start as little seeds. You have to give them time to germinate, you need to feed them with research, and give them time to grow.

Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down The Bones is an excellent book for new writers and I highly recommend the audio version) calls this process ‘composting’. You put in all the rubbish and wait for it to turn into beautiful soil.

How to develop an idea

I doubt many writers start out with fully-fleshed out stories. I certainly don’t.

I use Scapple from Literature and Latte to start a novel. It’s like a giant corkboard on which you can pin things. First I’ll pin my nut of an idea, perhaps a working title, maybe an idea for the theme.

If I can picture the characters in my head, I’ll download photos of them (actors and actresses I think could play them in the movie adaptations :) ) and pin those to the board. If that’s all I have, I’ll save the file and leave it.

As Natalie suggests, I give the idea time to compost, allow the seed to germinate. I’ll think about these characters just as I’m about to fall asleep. I’ll let them follow me around all day and see what they do, what they might say, whether they’re good or evil, and if they’re evil, what made them that way.

Each new idea, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, I’ll pin to my corkboard (and I do this well in advance, while I'm still drafting a previous novel because I know it takes time and you can't rush the muse. She's like a cat; she comes when she feels like it, but most often when there's food around).

So, I feed the muse with research. For example, I barely have anything for my next novel, just a nut of an idea. But I do know that part of it will take place in a high-security psychiatric hospital. So, I feed the muse by researching hospitals, searching for case reports from psychiatrists, reading books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. This research may not provide anything useful but that doesn't matter, all I'm doing is feeding the muse, getting the cogs turning and giving the idea space to grow.

When my Scapple corkboard is fleshed out, I then turn to The Story Grid, which is an excellent resource for developing novels. It’s really about editing existing works but I use it to guide my fleshed-out ideas, create scenes that turn pages, and build a solid framework for a novel.

Don't give up

Out of all the ideas you have had so far, pick the one you're most excited by (even if that's a mediocre amount of excitement) and feed the muse. You may find that it's not so awful after all, and that with time, it develops into something rich and exciting.

If you stop feeding and watering every seed before it even germinates you will never grow anything.

BUT! I would recommend that you don’t start writing until you’re excited about the concept. Write short stories as Secespitus suggests.

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    Thank you for this incredibly useful advice! I hadn't heard of Scrapple or The Story Grid before, but I'll definitely check them out. This response helped me a ton! – Alexis Strain Jun 19 at 21:40
  • @AlexisStrain No problem, glad it was useful. Scapple is made by Literature and Latte who also make Scrivener, the best writing software out there IMHO. Also, give yourself a break, writing is hard for everyone, even those of us who've been doing it for a long time. Whilst I love writing and wouldn't want to do anything else, there are many days when I'd rather be washing my husband's underpants than pushing through the hard graft!! But because it's so hard, it's really worth it when you complete a novel. Good luck, Alexis. – GGx Jun 20 at 10:15
11

It's often a good idea to note your ideas down the moment you have them and then look at them at a later point. This makes sure that you have an interest in it that lasts long enough to actually get something done and you can change some of the biggest things. Most stories are re-written / edited quite a few times before they are released.

If you just can't seem to get into the mood of writing a really long story you could just try a short story and see whether people like that. Maybe the feedback you get will encourage you to make the story a longer one.

In any case: writing is a good idea to help you improve your writing.

If you like the idea while you have your "writer" hat on, but not when you are donning your "reader", but you just can't seem to point out what exactly the reason for this is then writing a short story and having someone read it might be the best thing you can do. Your beta readers or general audience may be able to provide you with clearer feedback about what they don't like from the "reader" perspective. You can use this feedback to learn why you had this feeling, which will help you the next time it comes up so that you can look at your story ideas from a more objective point of view.

7

That's a really interesting question.

What springs into my mind is wondering why you think it would be interesting to you as a writer, if not as a reader? I'd like to hear more on this, maybe with some examples.

If not you, then who?

Based on the information available, I'd agree with some of the other answers, that if it doesn't appeal to you as a reader, it's probably a bad idea to invest the sort of time you'd need to to make it into a complete story.

Because if it doesn't interest you as a reader, why would it interest anyone else?

Or, on the other hand, even if it did interest some other people, if it doesn't interest you, then it's likely you're not the best person to write it.

Fleshing out the initial spark

However, it's possible you're losing interest in the idea because, as you mention - it's really only the nucleus of an idea, rather than a fully formed premise.

You could try completing these elements to make it into a proper story premise, then reassess how you feel about it: (disclosure - I link to a few resources for further information, both of these are my own site)

  • Protagonist
  • Setting
  • Objective
  • Opponent
  • Disaster

Let me explain each of these...

  • Protagonist - who is the main character? What makes them interesting? How will they evolve through the story?
  • Setting - where is the story set? When? What's interesting about the setting?
  • Objective - What does the main character want? What do they need? (read more about that here)
  • Opponent - what is stopping the main charcater getting what they want? What conflict(s) will arise in the story?
  • Disaster - What disaster happens that sets the story in motion, or alternatively, what impending disaster may crash down at the story's climax?

If you work through these questions, then try to knit the key ideas together into a few sentences, you will have a more fully formed story premise. Once you've got that, you might have a better idea as to whether it's worth pursuing.

You can read about each of these elements in more detail here.

4

An option that I see often used in November during NanoWrimo is to "free the plot bunnies" -- if an idea occurs to you (maybe a Leprechaun/Ghoul romance and a particular issue to solve), but you really don't like romances, you can post the sketch of the idea into a "plot bunnies" thread, and then anyone who DOES want to do a supernatural romance, but is tired of vampires, can take your concept and run with it! Several someones could!

Elizabeth Gilbert's TED Talk about "genius" may be helpful -- the idea may come to you, but if it's not the right one for you, that's ok -- you can publicize it to let it find a good home, or just ignore it and it will find a different artist.

...the musician Tom Waits,... for most of his life, he was pretty much the embodiment of the tormented contemporary modern artist, trying to control and manage and dominate these sort of uncontrollable creative impulses that were totally internalized.

...

So he starts to feel all of that old anxiety start to rise in him like, "I'm going to lose this thing, and I'll be be haunted by this song forever. I'm not good enough, and I can't do it." And instead of panicking, he just stopped. He just stopped that whole mental process and he did something completely novel. He just looked up at the sky, and he said, "Excuse me, can you not see that I'm driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen."

And his whole work process changed after that. Not the work, the work was still oftentimes as dark as ever. But the process, and the heavy anxiety around it was released when he took the genie, the genius out of him where it was causing nothing but trouble, and released it back where it came from, and realized that this didn't have to be this internalized, tormented thing

3

I am a discovery writer, for two reasons. First, I have tried plotting out stories, and for me that takes all the creativity out of writing, I stop caring about the story and give up. It feels like a job, and I think that shows in my writing. I don't feel I write authentically about the character's emotions and lines, when I know exactly how it will all turn out. Other people may like all that planning, but to me it makes writing drudgery.

Secondly, I enjoy stories with the POV of a single heroic, somewhat flawed character. Surrounded by interesting support characters with their own little stories, but the book is about one POV person. John Wick. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sherlock Holmes. John McClane (Die Hard). James Bond. Harry Potter.

These stories are a simple progression. Our character has a normal life. Some problem intrudes. They try an easy solution and fail, the problem escalates. They absolutely have to solve this problem, which forces them out of their normal life, and into a new reality where they struggle, and get their ass kicked a few times, but eventually learn enough about the problem to prevail. They return to a normal life; perhaps the original one, or a new normal they accept.

So here is what I do with a snippet of an idea: How can I turn this into a big ass problem? Who is this a problem for?

I need a character to focus on, and the character has to have a problem that they cannot walk away from, they have to solve it or lose something they cannot stand to lose. Your snippet of an idea has to yield both the problem, and the character it threatens to deprive, but mostly the character.

Then I start writing the character and their normal life, to introduce them and their world.

As Stephen King says (another discovery writer) every story will turn out somewhere. Just keep your characters forcing changes to move the story forward, don't let them stall or get comfortable in a premature new normal. They have to fight, but only circular fights will last forever, sooner or later the fight ends and they win or lose.

Personally, I always keep some ending in mind about how the problem might be resolved; but I will often change that 3 or 4 times during the course of writing, as I get better ideas. I think of such endings as kind of a compass heading; I don't want to write anything that gets too far off course, or prevents that ending.

If I write something that precludes my idea of an ending, I have to either come up with a better one, or change what I wrote.

Otherwise, I do not sap all my creativity by plotting everything out. My characters do what they do in accordance with their personalities and desires and reasons for being there, and as an author I don't let them get complacent or satisfied more than temporarily, before they get kicked into action again.

I would suggest trying this approach. Maybe you are a discovery writer.

2

If you will enjoy writing it that's all that matters. The advice I've had from every professional novelist I've had the privilege to speak to personally is clear on this: write what you want to write how you want to write it. Usually with an addendum or two about the opinions of critics, editors and/or publishers tacked on.

If you enjoy working on a piece it's never time wasted, I wrote a piece of fluff, a hundred words or so, of the fey talking to a mad scientist, it was just trying out dialogue formats, 10 years ago and I filed the content away as pointless rubbish, except that a couple of years later I wrote a piece that meshed with it, and then another a year or so after that and a few more until now I have a sheaf of work half an inch thick that fits into this loose setting/universe idea, a coherent timeline of the major defining events, and the start of a couple of nice short stories out of it. Writing is only ever wasted if you throw it out, don't throw written work out, ever.

2

I think the main question here is why are you writing? If it's for some work thing, you might want to get a second opinion to make sure it's engaging, so that you can fulfill the work requirements. If it's just for fun, I think the most important thing is if you are enjoying the actual writing process. Personally, I've written stories that I would never want to read, but the process of writing them is so fun that it makes it worth it. You wrote that:

Sometimes, I'll begin forming an idea, and then realize that the story wouldn't appeal to me as a reader, despite the fact that I have interest in it as a writer.

I'm repeating myself (sorry) but I think that since you're engaged as a writer, that's what really matters.

  • I want to write stories that I would want to read, if that makes any sense. The reason I don't think the story in question would appeal to me is because it's a fantasy concept and that's not a genre I tend to gravitate toward. Is writing outside of my preferred genres a good idea, or would it sidetrack me from writing better stories? – Alexis Strain Jun 19 at 21:44
  • @AlexisStrain You're in control of the story and setting. What is it that bothers you about fantasy? Can you get rid of it without compromising the story? Some of the best works of a genre have been written be eschewing the common conventions of the genre (sometimes creating a new genre in the process). Indeed, sci-fi and fantasy have essentially no universal conventions, so it's hard for me to see how it would limit your writing or story in any way (unless you're thinking of the "fantasy ghetto" :)). – Luaan Jun 20 at 13:45
2

CON:

The reasons to not write something you wouldn't read are pretty easy and straightforward:

  • You are a stand-in for your potential audience. If even you aren't interested in this idea, that audience may not exist.
  • It's hard to do a good job writing something that doesn't engage you.
  • If you're writing in a unfamiliar genre, your writing may appear cliched and amateurish to that genre's fans.

PRO

In some ways the potential reasons to push on anyway are more interesting:

  • Not all writing is for publication. This writing may represent important learning for you, or inform your eventual published writing in some important way.
  • Not all ideas show all their magic at once --just like not all love is love at first sight. Sometimes the best final product comes from unpromising seeds.
  • Some writing --particularly fantasy --can help you personally explore your subconscious, and other internal psychological territory.
  • Sometimes an outsider to a genre can bring a fresh new perspective or ideas. It's not unheard of for successful fantasy books to be written by people who don't typically read fantasy.
  • If you have a pattern of giving up on all your ideas, then at some point you need to just push on through with one, all the way to the end. "Losing interest" can be a symptom of a mental block against completing a writing project.

This needs to be your own choice, but if there's something in this idea you're having trouble letting go of, I'd say go ahead and explore it --at least until you feel you've worked through it, and there's nothing more to gain out of it.

1

Sometimes, I'll begin forming an idea, and then realize that the story wouldn't appeal to me as a reader, despite the fact that I have interest in it as a writer. If I wouldn't want to read the story, is writing it still a good idea?

Yes, writing it is, but probably not polishing or publishing it.

Write that story, and as you are going down a metaphorical highway of writing, keep an eye out for off-ramps that might lead you to more interesting places. Invite, rather than fear, "distractions" which might take your story in a different direction.

If one of those "distractions" seems promising and interesting, run with it and let the creativity flow, even if that means dropping ideas about where you were planning to go, and even if you recognize it means that a lot of what you wrote in the process of getting there will have to be scrapped.

To the extent that you can, start with the seed and just keep writing as long as you can until you get to something interesting. Even if the place you started wasn't that interesting, you may wind up somewhere that is, which you would not have reached without starting with the throwaway seed.

To an extent, this also works with collaborative nonfiction in which an initial drafter proposes a "straw man" as collaborators are often more willing and able to make even drastic improvements compared to starting with nothing.

My favorite example of this is probably To Kill a Mockingbird, which started out as a different story, and evolved into its final and highly successful form (in part) through encouragement to explore more about one particular character.

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