If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they had an “idea” for a book I’d be flippin’ rich. I mean, it’s great you have an idea, but how much have you developed that idea? A book doesn’t write itself based on just an “idea.” It needs to be nurtured, developed, and molded into something more.
I have tons of ideas for stories every day and most of them don’t fill a post it note let alone make it to the writing stage. Some ideas have merit, others need to be buried deep within the earth and forgotten about entirely.
I have a folder with pages and pages of notes for half-baked story ideas. Want to know how long it’s been since I’ve written them? Over a decade. I haven’t touched or looked at that folder since high school (as of right now I’m a married woman with two kids and two years away from turning 30).
So, how do I decide what to write and when? For me it depends on how interesting the idea is, if it’s been done before if I can do it better… I need to love it (even during the writing stage when all I want to do is hatehatehate my writing).
My first novel (a horror novel for Young/New Adults) is the first idea I’ve managed to turn into a novel (not including poetry, short stories, etc.) It’s about zombies. Now, I don’t particularly love reading about zombies BUT I love writing about them. My novel isn’t just about zombies though or it’d be pretty boring. I added other elements to it which I love such as paranormal romance and science fiction. It’s a trilogy and right now I’m halfway through writing the second one (and then follows lots and lots of editing). I probably could’ve made it a stand alone novel, but I thought breaking it up into three parts would be better for my audience (helps to keep them interested as to what happens next).
I have another idea for a story and… that’s all it is right now: an idea. It’s a good one though, or it can be, and I want it to be perfect. I’m focusing on finishing my trilogy right now before starting on the next idea so I don’t get distracted.
Here’s the different stages a story idea goes through before it becomes more than an “idea” (in my opinion):
First Stage: What If?
An epiphany while reading or observing something of interest that you think would be “good” in a long, drawn out version such as a play, novella, novel, epic, etc. Lots of “what if this or this happened?” (or similar) questions are asked during this stage, usually followed by “no that sucks” or other similar phrases. About 90% of ideas don’t make it past this first stage (my high school writing folder, for example).
Second Stage: Seriously Though, What If?
A “good” idea just won’t go away and it sticks in your head playing over and over again until you have no choice but to revisit it. Some people are lucky enough to jot down a few notes on the idea and some of these people move onto the third stage, and others look at the notes and think “what the heck was I thinking?” before chucking it away.
Third Stage: Wait a Minute, This Just Might Work
Turns out those notes aren’t half bad and some of them actually make sense. You might talk about your idea with someone else and see if it has merit. You might do a little research (Google, Twitter, read novels similar to your idea). Before you know it, you have several pages of research and notes to go along with your idea.
Fourth Stage: The Outline or First Chapter
After all those notes, research, and talking with other people about your idea it’s time to start writing (yes, you have written stuff already but that was only a warm up… trust me). You can start with an outline (be a plotter) or you can try writing without one (be a pantser). Both ways are okay (you have permission to not outline every single chapter, paragraph, and sentence); you can decide for yourself which way works best for you and your idea.
Fifth Stage: Idea -> ? -> Novel
I’m not going to tell you the secret to getting your idea to be more than an idea. Really, the stages after the first one are my own opinion and might not work for you or you may not agree with them. How you feel about an idea is how you feel about it end of story.
Here’s the bottom line: Any idea is a good idea (as long as it’s not illegal and doesn’t hurt anyone physically… can’t do much to stop feelings from getting hurt). Every writer has a different way of judging whether an idea is a good one or not and there’s not set guidelines or rules on how to rate an idea. If it works for you then pursue it. If not, move on to the next one.
How do you judge the worth of an idea? Please comment below.
Until next time.