Monday, May 9, 2011

How to Know if Your Story is Worth Pursuing

Writing a story takes time, dedication, and a huge amount of angst, sweat, and passion. It would be a shame to put that much effort into a novel’s creation only to discover at the end no one is interested. So, I’ve listed some ways we can discern which story ideas are worth pursuing:

Research the Market. Agents and publishers will always be more interested in a story that easily fits into a market. The stories that have no clear place or genre will more often be the ones that wallow in the slush piles. Research the market so you have an understanding of what sells and where it sells. This doesn’t mean we have to stick to the current trends. Usually a trend will die by the time we’ve finished writing our novel—which brings me to my next point:

Seek Originality. If the story idea is just another rehash of novels already in the market, then it’s probably best to either walk away or come up with an original spin on the story. Karen Gowen said it well in her post about themes: there are no new themes, only new stories. Find the twist that will make your story stand out from the rest.

Create Engaging Characters and Conflict. Before we pursue a story idea, it’s important to remember a great concept won’t necessarily be enough to generate a fabulous story. Readers want relatable, interesting characters to engage them. They want drama and conflict. They want to loose themselves in the story. A question worth asking is: will there be enough page-turning elements?

Think about it. This might sound obvious, but we don’t always turn on our brains. At least, I know I don’t. I learnt it’s worth finding out personal likes and dislikes in a story. To do that, we have to read a lot and think about our reactions to the stories. We can then ask ourselves whether or not our potential novel will have similar elements.

Find the Passion. If you can’t summon a deep excitement for a story, then perhaps it’s not worth pursuing. Stories shine when the authors care. It’s not always about getting published. It’s about the joy of creating the story. Without the passion, the project may never get finished.

What is it about the stories you like to read most?

43 comments:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with having that passion show up in stories. It gives the work energy, IMO.

    As for trying to be original: that's what usually derails me. I end up doing too much cross-genre stuff. I'm probably doomed to a life in the slushpile, but one of these days I'll get the right combination. :P

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  2. I think above all, I want to be entertained - so much that I forget the outside world for an hour or so! :-)
    I so agree with your points here - especially about feeling passionate about the story you are creating! Take care
    x

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  3. blogger at my comment!!!!

    I like larger than life stories that take me away: Tolkien, Lewis, Koontz, King, Feist, Brooks, Hickman-Weis, Gaiman, etc.

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  4. Great post! I especially believe in seeking originality. There is so much of the same old clogging up the market today, and it's so refreshing to find a story that takes a turn off the beaten path. And, of course, the characters need to create a great voice for the story!

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  5. Succinct and elegant. Excellent post, Lynda- thank you.

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  6. I like intelligent stories and writers, and can't stand ignorant and superficial ones. I also like books with messages and goal.

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  7. Great Post! Happy Mother's day! And, I agree with you 100%!

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  8. I think there has to be a certain richness and complexity to a story--I really like what you said about "page-turning elements". Not that there has to be an explosion at the end of every chapter, but there have to be frequent new developments and twists that are compelling. Another great post, Lynda!

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  9. Anyone else having trouble with blogger at the moment? sigh...

    L G Smith, personally I don't think there's anything new under the sun. Besides, anything TOO original, won't sell. Like you said, it's finding that balance.

    Old Kitty, yes! Being entertained and transported away is what I love to read as well and so it's something I want in my own stories.

    The Words Crafter, yep, I'm having trouble with blogger too :( I agree,but what makes them larger than life?

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  10. Mary, I think it's voice that adds to originality.

    Suze, thanks

    Dezzy-baby-hun, not sure if you'll like my stories then ;) hehehe, just joking.

    Shelly, happy mother's day to you too.

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  11. Sarah, well said. I think an author makes a mistake by throwing in too many explosions in the hope of engaging the reader. It's a cheap ploy. There always has to be forward motion in the story, it just doesn't have to be explosive.

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  12. I went with what the fans wanted - a female lead.

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  13. Absolutely great advice! I love being able to connect with the stories and the characters... I love reading about the journey... they just pull me in and don't let go :)

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  14. i never seem to be in tune with what is fashionable or popular... so i just have to use all that passion stuff to keep me at work with my stories. the thing is, i KNOW how unlikely getting published is, so i just need to write something that i can love and fight for.

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  15. Originality and a twist is key I think, along with strong characters and interesting dialogue.

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  16. Hey! What an awesome litmus test! This is a great post, Lynda, and my #1 determinant is your last one--am I passionate about the story? Fired up? Then I know something's going right~ <3

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  17. When I'm reading, I don't want to have to turn back to work out the storyline - I love a story that flows well. Hopefully I can do that when I write.

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  18. I read for characters most of all. If I don't care about them, I don't care about the story.

    That's just me though. Publishers are something else entirely.

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  19. It's not so much that I can relate to the characters (obviously I can't relate to the killer Silas in the Da Vinci Code because I don't go round killing people!) but those characters are interesting and have their own way of doing and saying things.

    Duncan In Kuantan

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  20. Alex, scary... ;)

    WritingNut, yes, finding that connection is wonderful

    aspiring, well said. And the passion you have will not only keep you going, but will make a huge difference to your stories.

    Anthony, yes, dialogue is something I didn't mention, but it is one of the elements that engages the readers (when done well).

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  21. LTM, it only becomes difficult to decide when you're fired up over two or more stories ;)

    Michelle, oh yes, another great point! Story flow is important.

    Lindz, so, so true.

    Duncan, even with the evil characters, there is an element of relatability within them. It might be the very element that unnerves us about them.

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  22. Apart from the main characters,I also love to read secondary well defined characters and start hoping to read their stories sometime.

    You did a great post. Thanks!

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  23. Absolutely agree on the Passion - it's a lot of work for something you don't love. Good points. Looking forward to the writers festival :)
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

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  24. I love a mix of a great plot and great characters. I really look at a story idea now before pursuing it. Always asking how can I make it bigger and better!

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  25. Lynda, I am so glad you posted this. Lately I've felt my writing slide down into a bit of a rut (or a latrine, or so it certainly feels at times...lol). But I want to write about something that, as you mentioned, excites me, makes me care and actually want to invest in the characters. How they'll grow, arc across the course of the book.

    So, thank you, again, for this post. I've got a lot of thinking to do; that's for certain. But I feel a lot more anxious about it now. :)

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  26. I think originality is a big one. I've read stories that just seem to be a take on another,, and that makes it less interesting.
    Another fantastic post Lynda!

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  27. It's impossible to disagree with what you've said here. It's important to remember each step in the process of publication, and how our efforts fit into it.

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  28. All great points! I especially like "seek originality." Easier said than done, but it's a fun challenge to try to come up with something unique. Of course, tied into your next points--to write a great story to go along with it. ;o)

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  29. All the points are worthy of contemplation, Lynda. I think its important to keep the points in mind while we write. If what we are writing is a rehash of what has already been read in a hundred and odd books, then we can kiss the chances of publication a goodbye.

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  30. I could swear I read and commented on this post - it must be a case of deju vu!

    The topic of your post was erfect timing for me. Thank you!

    Ellie Garratt

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  31. For me, I think conflict sells the novel, and if you can show that within your first chapter, you'll snag an agent, too.

    Great post!

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  32. My favorite stories are those which make me think. I know I am not in the majority. But that is the element I like best. I also like being surprised, not knowing where the story is going after chapter one.

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  33. I lean towards Gaiman and Pratchett who can take a simple idea and turn it on its side.
    But if an author can throw a major curve ball and do it well then that's good too.

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  34. Nas, thanks, and yes, interesting secondary characters are great too.

    Charmaine, the writer's festival will be brilliant. I'm so excited! I've also been doing some volunteer work for them and have seen some of what goes on behind the scenes. We are in for a treat this year!

    Laura, yes! making it bigger and better is the way to go.

    Alyssia, I hope you mean 'a lot less anxious' ;) I hope this helps you get out of your rut. Tomorrow's post might help too...

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  35. Emily, yes! I could name a few of those books (I won't, but I could hehehe).

    D U Okonkwo, yes, because there's nothing worse than wasted effort. Although, I'm also a believer that no writing is wasted writing.

    Carol, way easier said than done ;)

    Rachna, exactly. Avoid the rehash.

    Ellie, I do that ALL THE TIME! Glad it helped.

    Rachel, yes, conflict is definitely a winner.

    M Pax, yep, I love those stories too.

    Gyran, Gaiman and Pratchett have a unique way of seeing the world. It's brilliant.

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  36. In the stories I like to read it's always the characters that are flawed and vulnerable I'm most drawn too. The story could be about anything but if the characters don't interest me then I don't read.

    Jai

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  37. I've recently discovered that what I love most in a story is a romance. I think it's so funny I didn't realize this until just a few years ago. Now I don't think I'd be interested enough in a story without some romance to invest the time and energy it takes to write it.

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  38. I always start out reading for plot but end up liking a story because of the characters.

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  39. Jai, there is something appealing about flawed characters. They are relatable.

    Susan, yes, I love a little romance too.

    Holly, hehe, yep, I think that might be a common thing. The great characters are a wonderful delight.

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  40. I would even argue that there are no new stories, only new ways of telling them. Even the most well-known stories in the world can be retold in new and different ways, and be just as exciting. I think each writer needs to find for his or herself what's unique about their particular take on a story--what do they have to say that no one else can?

    For me, it's always about whether I'm the one to tell this particular story--if it's a book that only I can write, then it makes me think I was meant to write it, and gives me that edge I need to see it through.

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  41. I just finished a book that really wasn't all that original in story but the characters were fun and that's what made me enjoy it.

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  42. I look for originality, a tight plot, and lively characters, no matter the genre. I dislike stories that resemble everything else out there, slow books, and characters that have no oomph.

    This is a helpful list. :)

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  43. Meagan, great point. It's the uniqueness that makes it a different story.

    Jennifer, yes, fun characters are great.

    Medeia, I won't read slow books. I don't have the time ;)

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.