You’ve recently finished your latest WIP and are ready to start writing a new story. You open up the folder where you keep your list of ideas only to see pages and pages of ideas staring you in the face. Crap. How to choose your next story idea? Eenie Meenie Miney Mo could work, but it’s probably not the best way to go at it. Here are a few things I like to do that help me decide what idea to use in my next story.
CHOOSE A FEW OF YOUR FAVORITES
If you’re starting from ground zero then you might not have a book full of ideas ready and waiting. The first thing you’ll need to do is take time and start writing your ideas down. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas for stories I talked a bit about where story ideas come from in a previous post. However, if you already have a list of story ideas ready to go, the next thing I like to do is to pick a few favorites from that list.
Go over your list of ideas and pick a few that you want to expand or ones that you’ve been sitting on for a while. Writing takes a long time so I know there are some stories you’ve put on the back burner. Dust those off, pick a few other ones that you think have potential, and then it’s on to the next step.
COMBINE YOUR IDEAS
A single idea alone is almost never enough to start a story so after I pick a few ideas I try to see if I can combine some of them. Maybe you have one idea about a boy lost in the woods and another idea about a dog finding his way home. It might be a good idea to combine these into one story idea about a boy and a dog lost in the woods trying to find their way home. This not only helps strengthen an existing idea, but it also helps you bring more ideas to life rather than having to choose just a few.
MAKE SURE THE IDEAS HAVE HEART
After writing a lot of stories for contests and submissions, I came to the realization that there is a big difference between writing a story for someone and writing your own story. It’s not to say that you can’t write a good story for someone else, in fact, I think it’s a good skill to have. I do find however that the stories that come from inside of you, the ones deep down begging to be told are the ones you should be writing when you can. So, when choosing your ideas don’t try and choose a story that you think people will want to read, but rather choose the story your heart wants to tell.
Contests, submissions, and prompts are great for practicing the craft of writing but I think that if you really want to write a great story it has to be one that is true to you. If it’s an idea that is meaningful to you it’s more likely you’ll be excited to work on the project which brings me to my next point.
CHOOSE THE ONES YOU’RE MOST EXCITED ABOUT
If you were working on your last project for a long time starting something new is often a breath of fresh air. There are usually a few ideas that you’d like to turn into stories so it’s a good idea to choose the ideas you’re most excited about. If the idea doesn’t excite you in any way I say move on to the next. If you can’t get excited about it then how can you expect the reader to? The new energy and excitement will help you build momentum so your new project will get off to a good start.
At this point, you should have about a handful of ideas that have potential.
NARROW YOUR CHOICES DOWN FURTHER
If you’ve already managed to choose your next story idea by now then congratulations! You’re done. If you have more than 5 ideas then you’ll want to narrow your choices down to your top 2 or 3. Why 2 or 3? I think that it’s a good number that will leave you with enough options without being overwhelmed. A question I like to ask myself when I’m narrowing down my choices is:
Am I the best person to tell this story?
Do you have the experience, background, knowledge to do this story justice? If the answer is no, then you’ll probably want to leave that story for someone else to tell. Research and resources can go a long way but do take a serious look at yourself and be honest when answering this question. It’s probably one of the most important questions to ask yourself as a writer or storyteller.
The next step is brainstorming where you’ll take you top 2-3 ideas and see which ones are ready to write and which ones need some time to stew a bit longer. We’ll save that topic for another time though.
Choosing the next idea for the story you want to write is exciting. It may be daunting with all the ideas you have ready but just remember:
- Pick a few of your favorite ideas
- Try to combine your ideas together if possible
- Make sure your idea has heart and it’s a story you want to tell
- Choose the ideas you’re most excited about
- Narrow down your choices to your top 2 or 3
These are just a few things I think about when trying to find my next story idea. If I could work on multiple projects at the same time I would but it’s not something I recommend. Work on a project. Finish it then move on to the next.
Now that you have a few good choices for your new story the next step of the process is brainstorming. In this step you’ll learn very quickly which ideas have enough legs to take to the next level and which ones don’t. We’ll save that topic for another time though. Thanks for reading and I hope you found something useful for your writing process.
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How do you choose what idea to use for the stories your create? I love hearing and talking about writing processes so do let me know in the comments below!
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Great run-down. I think making sure that your ideas have heart is key. For the past several months, I’ve been trying to participate in a Reedsy contest (5 prompts every week). Ideally, I write an idea next to the printed out prompts first. SOmetimes I am excited about more than one story. But at times, I only end up choosing one because the others seem “lame.”
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5 prompts a week is a lot of writing, that’s great practice! Some ideas are definitely “lame” and that makes choosing a bit easier. 👍