Saturday, October 26, 2013

Story Ideas and How to Make Them Stand Out

With nanowrimo just days away, I thought I'd write a fun post about how to come up with great new story ideas! Not how to plot or to plan, but some ways to spark a new idea or to make sure your already-there-spark is unique. Because who wants to spend months writing and revising and querying a book just to find out it won't stand out in the crowd?

Step 1: Know what's out there.
Note: I put this as step one because it's the most important to me. I don't always do it first.

Sometimes we come up with the COOLEST IDEA EVER… only to find out it's been done to death. There are remedies to this, of course. You can write about your sparkly vampires if you are knowledgeable in the market and know how to make it unique. But first you have to read—a lot.

-Know what books are huge in the market, this means for year and years.
-Know what's new in the market, read books that came out this year!
-Know what's selling (the best way to do this is follow publishers marketplace, unfortunately that costs money (but I believe the lunch email is free), so if you can't do that follow things like #MSWL, agent and editor blogs and follow lots of authors and agents on twitter.)
-And lastly, I suggest that you know what's also being queried. Follow contests on twitter, even if you're not entering. Often, the judges will post what they see a lot of which is very important information. Read the winning entries. Critique others when you have the chance.

When you know the market you'll know exactly where you stand and probably what not to do in your manuscript. Avoid over used tropes, instead put a fun spin on stereotypes. Don't write something super close to SUPER AWESOME BESTSELLER. Even if the story you want to write is close, still write it—just find a way to make to different.

Step 2: The Spark

This is the hardest part of the process. The part that I can't really help you with. I'll point you in the right direction in case you're a bit stuck, but mostly you've got to find your story yourself.

Finding the spark can be done in many ways. It can start with a character, a concept, a full plot or even just one single sentence. Sometimes it comes from dreams. Sometimes from watching a movie you loved, or wanted to love but couldn't. Often it's a "what if" scenario. I like to think about new perspectives of old stories. Like Grendel from Beowulf (GRENDEL by John Gardner) or the wicked witch of the west from Wizard of Oz (WICKED by Gregory Maguire).

What ideas interest you? What story do you wish people knew but don't? Was there a story you loved the idea of but it didn't do it justice? How can you take that idea and make it new and exciting?

One way I sometimes come up with ideas is…. Wait for it…. PINTEREST.  I love looking through random pictures and seeing all the stories inside them. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes, with the right brain… it can be worth 50,000 (or more!)  I found this Pinterest profile while searching for pictures for my own story boards and I love it. It's so diverse and inspirational. Looking for a new story spark? I bet you'll find something if you flip through some of these pictures:

Whatever it is you choose, whatever your story, the most important thing is that you are passionate about it.

Step 3: Fleshing out the spark

Yay! Now you have a story spark! But what do you do with it? Some sparks are big, with full plot lines and some are teeny-tiny little ideas you're not really sure where it'll go. Here are some of the most important aspects to flesh out before your story is really ready.

Main Character- Who is your story about? Gender, age, personality, family, past experiences. I'm not one for detailed planning, especially with character, just an overall idea of who your character is and what they want and why, is enough.  How is this character unique? Why do you want them to be the one to carry the story? Be excited about this character, don't make them just a blank face.

Setting- Don't forget setting! This can be a great way to make an average idea stand out. Set the story deep in the Appalachian mountains (modern or not), in the middle of New York City, on the Caribbean coast, Japan, Russia, Africa…  Even a contemporary novel can be set somewhere unique. Sometimes settings you don't know firsthand are hard to pull off. As long as the setting is strong, it doesn't have to be ridiculously out there. Just make me remember it!

Plot- What happens? What does your character want and what's stopping them? What happens if they fail? Writing out a pitch or a full query is often really helpful to me when it comes to finding out what this story is about. Especially when drafting quickly, like for nanowrimo, it's important to have a few major plot points set out so you don't get stuck or end up having to back track.

Other characters- one of the things that pull me in as a reader are new characters. A fun best friend, a quirky new character needed to help the character on the way, family, and most importantly… the antagonist. Some of these can be found once you start writing, but having one or two ready and waiting is a great way to keep the story moving, and the antagonist is generally an integral part to the plot so having the opposition developed it also helpful.

Ideas come easier to some people than others. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is the key to success (in much more than just writing). If you're good at low-key stories, keep at it. Just find a way to make it unique, whether by setting or a new perspective or an interesting concept (current or historical events/issues for example.)

Just love what you're writing, that's number one. Then find a way to make it marketable.  

How do you come up with story ideas?

Oh! And I'd love to hear what you're writing for nanowrimo. :D

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