Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

The Writer’s Way: Your Ideas Won’t Always Work Out

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 02•20

Story ideas often come to writers as a fleeting spark of an idea or feeling. Maybe it comes from meeting an interesting stranger. Maybe it comes from a childhood memory or looking back at a life-altering trip. Or perhaps you’re trying to rewrite a difficult situation you’ve always wished you’d handled better. Maybe you spot a person on the street who reminds you of someone from your past. Maybe that person broke your heart.  Or bullied you when you were a kid. Or she/he is the one who got away.

Perhaps you have no idea where your story idea came from.

Sometimes a story comes from asking what if. What if dad never left us? What if an adult with a family runs away from home?  What if I never met ___? What if a corpse is discovered missing its fingerprints?  What if someone refused to keep family secrets?

All these ideas have potential….BUT ideas are the easy part of writing. A spark doesn’t always ignite into a flame. A spark doesn’t always equal a plot.

So you need tools and criteria to judge your ideas. Visual artists have a great advantage over writers because an artist can place his painting in front of a mirror. The mirrored image will be so distinct that the artist will see it anew. Writers, alas, can’t use the mirror trick.

Your friends or critique group can help you discern weak story concepts versus potent story concepts. But over time you’ll need to find ways to judge your own work. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Does your idea foment or riot within you? Do your main characters get your heart pumping? Demand to be heard?  Demand to be shaped into a tale?
  • Can you ‘see’ the story in a series of vivid scenes?
  • Can you boil down the story into a few vivid sentences?
  • Can you ‘hear’ the main voice of the story already? Does the voice come naturally or easily as if from some untapped part of you?
  • Does a major twist come to mind?
  • Can you imagine the ending?
  • Can you plot the causality–as in one scene leads to the next, then leads to the next.

Keep asking yourself questions about what comes next or the protagonist’s core traits or how you can complicate things. Perhaps a false accusation or betrayal might help shape the story. Perhaps a lie or secret lies at the heart of things. And what about the themes? Can you offer fresh insights about human nature? Create characters your reader has never met or imagined, but always wanted to?

Keep writing, keep believing, have heart

The Writer’s Way is a series of posts I’m creating in 2020  suggesting how to shape a complex story and how writers persist and create despite the noise of the world, the tug of reality and day-to-day obligations.

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  1. Judy says:

    This is good! Thanks for the start. Looking forward to future installments.

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