Friday, January 27, 2023

What Ideas Are Worth Writing?

Hey'a! Over the last couple weeks, I've been working on some new projects, even though I'm not quite finished with BDPI #4. That's not something I generally do — I try to only have one project in the drafting stage at a time — but due to deadlines, I've had to make an exception. In any case, I figured this would be a good time talk about my take on a perennial topic in writing: how do you decide what ideas are worth writing? As many writers know, ideas are easy enough to come up with (especially when you don't need them, which is when you find out exactly why writers sometimes refer to ideas as "plot bunnies"), but figuring out which ones to invest time and energy in is another matter entirely. Every author has their own methods for making that choice, but here are the questions and litmus tests I, personally, use.

What Ideas Are Worth Writing?

  1. How long have I been actively interested in this idea? Because, as I mentioned, I don't like drafting multiple projects at once or starting one project before another is finished (or at least at a pause point), I have a built-in filter for ideas that won't have enough staying power to make a full story. While the amount of time I wait on a story varies based on some of the other questions and tests on this list, it's almost always at least a few weeks, if not months or even years, between when I come up with a story idea and when I actually write it. So, if I'm still interested in and excited about the idea by whenever I have time to write it, it's probably worth investing some time into. (I will still jot down ideas that I think could be worth pursuing when I come up with them, but if you could get a look at my "Story Ideas" note, you would realize that's far from a guarantee that I'll actually write them.)
  2. How much do I know about this idea? This one should be kind of obvious, but sometimes what seems clear to me is sometimes less so to others, so I'll list it anyway. An idea that has a solid main character or two, along with a beginning, end, and maybe a few middle scenes, before I even start outlining is far more likely to be written than a story that just has a general concept. Of course, this goes along with the first question; the longer I've been interested in an idea, the more likely it is that I've put thought into some good plot points and character arcs. And, yes, as some of you may have realized, this does mean that retellings (especially combined retellings) have an edge, since they come preloaded with a set of events, characters, and such to work with . . . but at least 75% of my ideas these days are fairy tale retellings anyway, so it's not that much of an edge.
  3. Does this fit with an established storyworld or series? As I told a friend the other day, I don't like to waste a good storyworld or a good set of characters. I love worldbuilding and character creation, but both of those activities take time, and when I can, I'd rather expand an existing world and give already-loved characters more time in the spotlight. Plus, on the business side of things, there's already a bit of a built-in reader base for series stories. So, for example, new Bastian Dennel, PI stories or ideas I can turn into new BDPI stories tend to get precedence over stories in an entirely new world — though there are exceptions if the idea passes other tests, as in the case of Through a Shattered Glass and one of the new projects I've been working on this week. This question doesn't exclusively refer to published storyworlds either. If I can fit a story in the same world as another book that I plan to revise and publish later, that also gives it a boost up the priority list because it means I'll be more likely to be able to get back to that other story later.
  4. Can I combine this with another idea I've been thinking about? One of the top ten best feelings in a writer's life is when the shiny new idea provides the missing pieces for an idea you've had for ages but haven't been able to justify working on. It happened with The Midnight Show, when I realized that my new idea of a jazz-age-inspired fantasy world and a private eye/singer main character pair could fit with the old idea of a Twelve Dancing Princesses story where the "princesses" are being pulled in to play roles in a musical. It happened with Through a Shattered Glass, when my need for a Snow Queen retelling came together with my interest in Return to Wonderland version of the Alice books. It's a wonderful discovery, and it frequently bumps ideas quite a ways up the priority list.
  5. Does this work with a contest, writing challenge, or group release I want to participate in? This is the question that can either be the deciding factor in choosing between two books that both check all the boxes or can overrule the results most of the other tests. It's the reason why I have three published Bastian Dennel, PI books but still haven't rewritten Blood in the Earth. It's why BDPI #4 is going on pause so I can write something I just came up with in the last couple months. The key is that this question has something the others don't: a fairly firm deadline. And a story with a deadline almost always takes precedence over a story without.

How do you decide which stories you're going to write (or tell in other ways)? What are your deciding factors? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

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