On the Choosing of Ideas

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about the nature of ideas and where to find them.  Let’s assume you’re at the point where you have plenty of ideas, and need to know where to focus your time and effort.

How do you know which ideas to nurture?  Well, that is a slightly trickier proposition.  The trunks, desk drawers, and hard drives of writers are full of half-baked and discarded ideas.  And that’s okay.  That’s normal.  It’s all part of the process, another brick in the road.

Honestly, there’s no magic formula.  A story that seems brilliant as you start it can shrivel and die on the vine, or hit a point where you realize the effort to fix it won’t be worth what you get out of it.  For me, I’ve found that practice helps me determine the mileage I might be able to get out of an idea:  how intrigued am I by this?  Can I shape it into something interesting?  Is it missing a vital component, like conflict?

I generally don’t start a story until I have, at minimum, a character and a conflict or goal.  If an idea doesn’t have that yet, I either poke it with a stick till it does, or toss it into the back of my mind and let it simmer.  But that’s just my process;  other writers might start with an image, or a scene.

When I begin a story, I don’t always know where it’s going to go. I start as a pantser, and usually find the plot as I chew on the idea and let the beginning play out.  Sometimes I find the way as I write it out.  And sometimes I hit a thorny patch with no discernible way to get from Point A to Point B.  Sometimes I look at that thorny patch and decide I can find the path underneath it with a bit of elbow grease and persistence.  Other times I shrug and turn to another project.  I ask myself, do I love the story enough to put in that extra work to find the path?

Seriously, don’t sweat it if you find a story isn’t working and you put it aside.  It happens to all of us.  With time and practice, you can improve at taking the temperature of an idea before expending a lot of effort on it, but sometimes you just have to make a go of it and see what happens.

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