How to choose between story ideas

There’s nothing worse than having equally intriguing and exciting ideas for your next project whether it be novel, essay, poem or something in the non-literary world. Choosing can seem impossible for a variety of reasons.

What if one turns out better than the other?

What if I don’t write one and then some other author comes along and writes it instead?

What if DO write this one but then nobody wants it or finds it as interesting as I do?

What if I get halfway through, hate it and wish I would’ve gone with another idea? Trust me, no author wants a file cabinet full of half finished manuscripts.

You may remember that I found myself in this exact predicament a few months ago. I had three different and distinct ideas for my third novel. I was equally excited about all three and could not make up my mind to save my life.

  1. Black magic and voodoo of New Orleans: The missing descendant of Marie Laveau has been hiding in the Quarter for years, right under the noses of the covens who want to crown and the ones who want to kill her. But as her powers become too hard to resist, discovery is inevitable. Will she accept her destiny as Regent of the New Orleans covens or rewrite history?
  2. Phantom of the Opera x Black Swan: Teenage ballerina runs away to join London ballet after her parents try to have her committed for an eating disorder. Falls in love with reclusive and deformed Russian choreographer who convinces her she must do whatever it takes to hone her skills… even if it means starving herself.
  3. Epic Fantasy x Sleeping Beauty Retelling: After a 100 year nap, Margana wakes to find the rebellion against her tyrannical sister has continued, and they need her to restart the war. But if true love’s kiss is the only thing supposed to wake her – and her lost love is trapped in her sister’s dungeons – who woke her? And what are their intentions?

They all sound pretty great, right? But I couldn’t stall forever. My fingers and imagination were itching to start on a new project, so I picked one. Let’s take a look at some of the exercises that helped me choose.

Aesthetics

I am sure you have all seen these floating around social media. I had never made one up to this point, but I decided to try it out for all three ideas and if one sparked my imagination more than the others.

Here’s the gist:

  • Identify a few main themes, characters and objects of your new project.
  • Scour Pinterest for corresponding pictures while making sure the color, tones and style match.
  • Take those pictures and put them into a grid using a tool like Canva.

And voila! You have a visual representation of your novel. Now I had a BLAST doing this, but ultimately it just got me even more excited about all three ideas. But that doesn’t mean it won’t help you, and I think it’s a good exercise regardless.

This post from Caitlin at Paper Fury gives you a little more info into the “how” of making an aesthetic, and just for kicks, my three aesthetics are below.

 

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Poll your friends/family/beta readers

They’re your loved ones and valued confidantes for a reason after all. Pull together a quick pitch like the ones above, send them out and wait for the responses to flood in.

Again, this wasn’t super helpful for me – my responses were evenly split three ways – but you may hit a gold mine. Or a friend who is well-read in other areas may point out that there is already a similar book out there – don’t want to write something that someone has already published!

Plus, nothing says fun like a heated debate between your loved ones about which book you should write next.

TIP: If your father reads nothing by non-fiction about the civil war and you write YA fantasy… Maybe give more weight to a different family member’s opinion (who actually reads what you write) over his. Well-meaning as he may be.

Past feedback

This is HUGE and helped me cut one of my ideas – or save it for later, we’ll see. A repeated piece of feedback I’ve received from agents is that they are looking for something bigger than what I have submitted. That could mean a variety of things: more characters, more obstacles, a more complicated plot.

So I took a look at my three options and noted that the second was pretty similar to what I’ve already written. It’s a story revolving mainly revolving around two people and focusing on an internal struggle. Nothing wrong with that, but it obviously wasn’t working for me/wasn’t what agents were wanting at the moment. So I decided to move forward with options 1 & 3 instead.

Market research

Now you will hear over and over again that the most important thing in choosing a story idea is to write what you love. And this is so true. BUT if you are trying to traditionally publish, you also have to pay a little attention to the market…

tenor

For example, YA epic fantasy is huge right now. Sarah J. Maas, Kendare Blake, Erika Johansen… All titans in that subsector of publishing and selling books like crazy. It’s hot, but it’s also what everyone else and their mother are writing. So there would be a lot of competition and pressure to stand out amongst all the other fantasy stories. This shouldn’t necessarily be a deterring factor but just something to keep in mind.

The Pre-Write Project

Ultimately, this workbook was how I made my decision, and I am so thrilled that Kristen put it together.

The Pre-Write Project consists of questions and guided activities to help you plan and map our your story, broken down into several sections, including:

  • Jumpstart Your Creativity
  • Expand Your Story Idea
  • Identify Your Ideal Reader
  • Craft Character Stories
  • Outline Your Plot Arcs
  • Expand Your Story Guide
  • Research Your Story

It also includes four additional sections for more fantastical stories:

  • Build Your Story World
  • Create Fictional Societies
  • Explore Magical Elements
  • Outline Available Technology

Now I am not saying to do the entire workbook for each idea. It’s 143 pages and that’s a lot of work. But just start…

For me, I had a clear winner once I dived into this project. While both of my remaining ideas are great, and I have no doubt I will eventually write the other too, one just took my brain and ran with it. Characters, plot twists and magical elements were popping into my head like crazy.

And you can see by my recent writing trip, that the decision has been made: New Orleans witchcraft all the way.

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Write in stages

Now I won’t lie and say it wasn’t a painful decision. I won’t tell you that there aren’t some days when I wake up itching to start one of the other two. But I can’t write them all at once. That would be too confusing and take forever.

However, there is a solution, and it’s called the Drafting Cycle.

We’ve all heard the importance of taking a break from your project, stepping away and allowing time for it to percolate. This is the PERFECT time to get started on another project. Then when it’s time to take another break, go back to the first. Not only will this increase your productivity but it will maintain your writing routine during those “break times.”

Feeling confused or overwhelmed? Check out Kristen’s article on the drafting cycle for more tips and tricks.

I’ve never done this before, but I am excited to try it out in 2018 when I have finished revisions on 700 Main and ready to start working on something new!

Anyone else struggling to choose between ideas? Got any additional tips? Let me know in the comments below!

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