Monday, February 22, 2010

Story Ideas: Unfinished, Semi-Finished, and Complete

I didn't realize it in time, but there's another blogfest going on, hosted by Laurel's Leaves . It will be fun seeing everyone's entries, even though I'm bowing out of this one. Not that there aren't plenty of embarrassing moments going on in my wips!

I loved all the comments on last week's blogfest, and I was reminded looking through them of a topic I'd wanted to blog about: Story ideas.

I have a lot of story ideas. Too many. When I first get a story idea I can't stop thinking about it. I want to see the characters come to life. I want them to be real. So I write.

But not every idea that comes into my head really has "what it takes" to go the distance. And I don't know that until I've started writing it. If I realize that a story isn't really prime-time material, aka, what I would want to start my writing career with, I have to make an executive decision: finish the story for myself-- never to be queried-- or leave the story unfinished and move on.

Obviously, finishing the story would take a lot of time... time that could be devoted to a story that is better suited to the career I hope to form. So usually, I just leave those stories unfinished... forgotten... sad little stories on my hard drive that will never see the light of day or get any more attention from me.

Sometimes though, I do a third thing. For the sake of closure, I write up the non-primetime idea as a short story. I tend to feel better about doing this option, because the characters get to live, in my mind at least :)

What do you do with all your story ideas? Do you know, before starting a story, that it's really what you want to publish? Do you have a bunch of half-started stories like me, with some of them making it to short story and others falling by the wayside? Only those precious few stories with true potential can have my full attention and become full-fledged novels... how about you?

I've noticed, when I go back and re-read some of my short stories, I want more. I want to turn them into novels and give them a shot. It's very confusing.

For now I'm ignoring all those half-finished stories, and I have a wip that hasn't let me down. I've made the choice to finish this one and let it have it's turn in the query-machine, and I've been consistently excited to keep writing. I think that's a good sign :)


  1. I usually let the story finish playing out in my head. Mostly because, if I don't, it won't leave me alone!

    A couple times I've done the same as you and written them as a basic outline for a short story.

  2. I write down a blurb of the story idea to save for later. I haven't been writing that long so I don't have as many ideas as you, but there are a few half finished stories that no one will ever see and I'm okay with that. They've helped to improve my writing.
    I think turning your ideas into short stories is a great way to go. Think of the wealth of short stories you'll have. Also these short stories could become pieces of your novels. L.M. Montgomery(Anne of Green Gables) wrote short stories all the time. All of her short stories have been put together in different theme books now. After reading those books I realized that a lot of those short stories are in her books. She had 8 Anne of Green Gables books and many of her chapters are like short stories - you'd be amazed how many of those chapters were originally short stories that she tweaked a bit to put in her books.

  3. What a wonderful spot to be in - excited and motivated to work. I keep all my story idea on file, and some made it to outline form. Only the ones I really get excited about make it for first draft and beyond. And I think it is important to think what you want your debut novel to be before you follow through on an idea.

  4. I write down ideas, lines, titles, etc. as they come to me, but I usually at least finish a draft of one before starting another. :-)

  5. I have a bunch of half started stories from my youth-- but not lately. Lately I've been a "jot down a note/blurb/plan about it and put it away" kind of person, while I do revisions.

    I'm not good with short stories-- they always end up some unmanageable length that I can't do anything with. Not quite a novel, not short enough to shop. It's completely aggravating.

  6. I write down all the ideas on paper as much info that assaults me on them and then save them until I decide I can't wait any longer to write them. Right now though I'm just trying to focus on my WIP which can be hard when I've got other ideas prodding at me. :)

  7. That's so great that you have such a large number of story ideas! :) I write mine down and keep them in a Word document so I don't forget them. Sometimes I have to make myself prioritize and work on whatever I've got going on, however much those little half-finished stories and new ideas are calling to me. It's the only way I ever get anything done!

  8. I do like you; write, then decide if I can take it somewhere.
    Winged Writer

  9. I admire you for being able to complete the ideas in short story form. I have many outlines for novels, complete with lovable characters, that I just chose not to write. I'd love to do something with them someday. A short story is a good idea!

  10. I'm a lot like you! If I have a good idea but I know it's not enough for a novel, I definitely write it as a short story. Maybe someday I'll think of how to expand on it.

  11. When I get new ideas, I put them in my notebook. Just a few sentences to remind me of the initial spark, nothing more. I try not to look through the idea section too much - too distracting with all of those shiny ideas!

  12. This is very good post and a hard dilemma. What do I do? I have tons of ideas and stories that I make notes on. I might come back to them later or maybe not but at least I wrote it down. If I don't, I'll lose it forever.

    That's a tough deciding where to give your love but I try to write what gets me the most excited, makes for better work. But it's important to finish, right? I'm all over the map today, don't listen to me for sure. I need coffee. My trainer kicked my buttocks this morning.

  13. Since mostly all I've written are short stories, I have finished most of them. Some of them were horrible. Really, really bad. I have picked some of those horrible ones back up years later and turned them into something grand. Recently I turned a 2300 word crappy short story into a 23,000 word novella that I feel is the best thing I've ever written.

  14. Tara- I do that too! But usually the story isn't content to stay in my head; I need to see it on paper for some reason and then it finally leaves me alone :)

    Mary- I LOVE Anne of Green Gables! I knew you were a kindred spirit ;) I like the idea that someday, something might come of my short stories, but for now I'm content with them being written. Should I be so fortunate as to see my novels published, I might be more ambitious with their fate :)

    Pauling- Thanks, it feels really good! I'm using the excitement while I can :) And I'm like you, I have to be really excited to decide to make an idea into a novel.

    Shannon- That's great that you complete a draft. I did that with my first and second novels, but now I've noticed I'm more discriminating with the stories I take on.

    Amalia- I have a ton of half-written stories from college, and actually it's because of my creative writing professor that I'm comfortable with the short story. A short story was the midterm and final of the class.

    Bethany- Yes, there's only one way to finish a novel and that is to ignore those other story ideas and focus on your wip.

    Julie- I totally agree! It takes discipline to focus on the right story, even when others call to us so enticingly :)

    Catherine- Yup, for me, jumping in the story is the only way to know for sure.

    Shelley- I think having the outlines are a great start. And I also think that our subconscious is continuously working on those stories, so when you look back you see much more of what you might want to write in the story.

    Aubrie- Yes!! I've often come back to short stories and wondered if they're worth expanding on. If I had decided to stick with historical romance, my next project was actually going back to Christmas Treasure and making it into a novel :)

    Melissa- I know what you mean about not looking back. Those new ideas always seems to beckon!

    Gwoe- I totally agree! If I don't at least jot down a few things, I may lose it forever. That happens too, unfortunately, but I like to believe that if I can't hang on to it long enough to get to my computer, maybe it wasn't really "the one" ya know? And, btw, I like when you're all over the map :)

    Angie- There is a lot of crap on my hard drive, I will freely admit that! I have definitely not written as many short stories as you have, but I do enjoy the sense of relief I get when a character's story gets to be told, even if it's just a short story. I expanded my Christmas short story up to about 25,000 words, but it isn't a novella; just an unfinished ms. Only the 5,500 word version is officially "complete."

  15. Hi! I just make a note and write it down so I can come back to it later. They sometimes seep in while I'm writing my WIP, but I can usually push it aside and keep writing. I like the short story idea too! :o)

  16. Dude, I'm blogging about ideas this week too! I think it's great that you never run out and get excited about the ones you have. Most of mine fizzle out around 10 K, so I really have to be in love to keep going.

  17. I have about a million little notebooks filled with random ideas. I try to write down the key points to the story as they come to me. After I finish whichever MS I am working on at any given time I go back to whatever idea is the most compelling.

    Right now I am actually working on two MS's and a couple of short stories all at once... um is that bad? Lol, it's like a party in my mind all the time with all of these characters talking away. Ok, now that just sounds like a problem lol...

  18. I know what you mean about ideas! I have major story-idea-overload. But the funny thing is, the ideas all come at once, in a huge, brain-sucking sort of way. and then I am a writing, housebound, antisocial fool for a few months and a story (or two) is born.

  19. sometimes, i feel like i'm character heavy and short on plot. i wish i had ideas floating around up in my overworked brain -- right now there are only bank account requests and and some dumb pain... this work week has left me low on creative juices.

    as for past ideas, they are filed and i hope to come back to them one of these days.

    if i complete my first manuscript, it will probably be a modern miracle anyway. see -- i'm too tired to even use capital letters!