A writer emailed me to ask, "I've stopped writing for about four months now because my story ideas just keep getting bigger and better and more and more exciting ... but I can't seem to get past the first three pages. Is there something that I should be (or not be) doing?"
It sounds to me like you suffer from what I often do: I don't have a story idea, I have a story premise.
What I mean by that is I usually have an idea for a character who has had this and this and this happen to them, and they now must overcome these atrocities. But ... I'm not exactly sure what that looks like yet. So I can write a chapter or two, maybe. But after that I get stuck.
We talked about story structure in the October newsletter, October is the month for good story bones ... and yes, it was intended to be a Halloween reference. (I'm pushing 30 - I'm allowed to be cheesy!) So there could be some helpful stuff for you in there.
The first thing that made me better at developing my story ideas was figuring out my character's goal. Because once I figure out the goal, I can brainstorm the hurdles.
Does my character want to go to a prestigious university? Let's take away her straight As, let's give her something that would distract her from school.
Does my character want to climb Everest? Maybe she gets sick. Maybe she can't scrape up the money.
Doing this can help you brainstorm a few turning points in the story. During my brainstorming, I'm a (recent) fan of using this lovely visual aid from The Plot Whisper:
It reminds me what my plot needs to be doing. The tension needs to climb until the end of act two, release for just a bit while the main character organizes for the final battle/climax, peak for the climax, and then release again so we can have a resolution.
The author of The Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson, suggests using Post-its for plotting, which I like a lot. I also followed her suggestion to pick several key moments to determine: the end of act one, the midpoint, the end of act two, and the climax.
I don't like having a real detailed outline to follow, but plotting out some basic turning points in the story not only saves me lots of time in rewrites, it gives me something to do with my characters after chapter two.
A couple of other thoughts:
- Flitting from idea to idea can also happen when you're in a season of intense growth. When I first started going to conferences and reading craft books, I had a really hard time getting myself to focus on one idea because every idea I came up with was even better. But you won't get better at writing complete stories until you push yourself to do so. You might need to start giving yourself a little time to write down everything about the new story idea, then pushing it aside and focusing on the book you're committed to.
- On Go Teen Writers awhile back, we came up with a list of questions that can help flesh out a story premise. Here's the link to those.
I hope this is helpful!