I Want to Be a Writer, But How Do I Choose Which Story to Write?
As I’m sure you’ve already experienced, there’s a huge difference between “getting an idea” for a story and actually beginning to write that story. So there are two issues we need to examine: how to choose the story idea and how to get started writing it.
How do I choose which story to write?
In a few days, my eleventh published novel will release. Before I started seriously studying the craft of writing and preparing myself to pursue publication, I would write and toy around with whatever I felt like working on at the time. For ten years, I wrote and rewrote a manuscript that grew to almost 200,000 words (though with as much rewriting as I did on it, I probably wrote something more like 500,000 words when all was said and done). It isn’t a complete story—it’s a collection of scenes and vignettes—really just things that I wrote to spend time with the characters I’d come to love so dearly. But before, and even during, the time I worked on that manuscript, I had so many story ideas that I would start writing—and usually got a page or ten into before setting it aside from disinterest.
So how did I choose which stories would be the ones I would spend six, eight, nine, twelve, thirty-six months writing? How do I choose from the many ideas that bombard me day-in and day-out?
For me, the stories I’ve written—either the unfinished ten-year project; the completed, published novels; or the new story-in-progress I’m currently writing—came from ideas that just wouldn’t leave me alone. And for me, it stems from the characters. Characters are where my stories begin. But the unfinished ones are the ones in which the characters turned out not to be interesting enough for me to want to come back to them time and again to see what was going to happen next.
Things to consider when choosing which story idea to pursue:
- Are the characters interesting enough to you, with sufficient mysteries and depth to them, that you’ll want to spend month upon month thinking about and talking to them? Are they real enough? Is there something they’ll need to learn/do that will give your main character(s) a growth-arc over the length of a novel?
- Even if your idea is character-driven, is there sufficient potential for a plot that will drive the story on to a climax and conclusion? If someone asked you what your story is about, would you be able to tell them?
- Is this a story idea that’s been formulating in your mind for a while and just won’t let you go, or is it something you came up with on a whim?
- Is there more than just an interesting character or a flashy plot to your idea? Will it have emotional depth? Spiritual depth (even if it’s not inspirational fiction, the story should have some kind of connection with something greater than the characters)?
- Do you have conflicts beyond the main plot?
Now, not everyone goes through these questions when beginning to write a story. But when you get to a point where you’re ready to give up on an idea after three, ten, or twenty chapters, these questions may come in handy when trying to determine if it wasn’t a good choice or if you just have writer’s block.
How do you choose what story idea you’re going to write?