When I talked on Monday about the difference between the spark of an idea and developing a strong idea, someone asked a wonderful question:
What happens when you get a spark and you put forth the effort to write the book, but then it just...fades away? You lose your interest.
This has happened to me as well, and I'm guessing it's fairly common for writers. I've noticed that, sadly, some ideas work better in my head than on paper. Sometimes ideas just aren't as good as I originally thought, but sometimes the ideas are good and it still doesn't work. When that happens, it falls into three categories:
1. Sometimes the idea is too personal
I have a story I regularly get an itch to write. Nine years ago (this week, actually) my father went through an extremely nasty, extremely bizarre situation with his business partner. I won't go into all the details, but in summary they had a disagreement and it was clear they could no longer work together. When my father left the office that day, his 50/50 business partner had the locks changed and then proceeded to ... well, do crazy stuff that drove away clients. The kind of stuff where you're like, "Is he on something?"
My point is it's a story that has everything. Mystery. High stakes. Jealousy. People taking sides. Money. Gossip. Greed. Heartache. Love triangle. That whole mystique of, "Who's telling the truth? Who knows the real story?"
Because I was working there at the time and, unfortunately, had a front row seat of the company's implosion, this is a story embedded on my heart, but even nine years later, it's still too raw for me to tell. I want to, and I've tried, but it just doesn't work yet.
And when I first tried to write it, it was clearly just too big a project for me. Which leads to my next category:
2. Sometimes my skill level is not ready for the idea.
We are constantly (or should be constantly) growing as storytellers. It's a story that, for whatever reason, is beyond my writing abilities. There are too many point of view characters, or I can't get the tension quite right, or I never can get the story started in the right spot. It can feel like this:
Like I'm a little kid who's just pretending the letters she's typing make sense.
We learn by writing, writing, and then writing some more. There's nothing wrong with setting aside an idea that's too complex and coming back to it later.
3. I don't have a story - I have a premise
A couple years ago I had a book idea that I was extremely excited about. I talked to my critique partner about it, I did some research, I spent a bunch of time on the social security website hunting up names. Finally I decided that I must begin writing or I would go crazy.
I eked out 7 (double spaced) pages before calling it quits. I couldn't even make it through the opening scene! Where was this story headed? What was going to happen? Did my character have a goal?
No, I had nothing. Except a premise that I found exciting.
Now when I come across something like this, I choose from the following three options:
I try to pinpoint what about the story has me disinterested. Sometimes that's easy (there's no romance!) and sometimes I'm in such a funk, I can't think straight - It's just a bad story, that's why it feels boring! It'll never work! I'll never have a good idea again! (Don't I sound fun to live with?)
If I'm just stuck on something and starting to feel bored, I'll either schedule a chat with my critique partner, or I'll pull out Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass or Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren, both of which have a lot of writing exercises meant to deepen your manuscript.
If I have the luxury (like if I'm not on a deadline or if no one is expecting the story from me) then I put it away for awhile. And you never know when a new idea spark will fit perfectly with an old story, when you'll find a way to make it work.
Tomorrow, teen author Rachel Coker will be here talking about historical fiction and the research process. Don't miss it!