Earlier this week, Stacey Lee and I shared some thoughts on how to figure out when it’s time to let go of a manuscript. And since one of the easiest ways to let go of an old manuscript is to fall in love with a new one, we thought it might be helpful to write a post on doing that.
Sadly, there isn’t a magic potion for finding a story idea to fall in love with. But Stacey and I have a theory that falling in love with a story is similar to falling in love with another person.
It often begins with attraction to an idea, a character, or setting you want to get to know better.
I tend to fall in love with ideas first. For the very first manuscript I wrote, I was smitten by the notion of a cursed book, with a tale so compelling inside that even though this book would poison its reader with every page, the story would be so powerful anyone who started reading would be unable to stop. The challenge was attempting to write a story that would be worth dying to read, since I wanted to actually include this killer story within the pages of my manuscript. While I don’t think I accomplished this goal, because it was the very thing I’d written, the challenge was so exciting to me I wrote my first draft of this book in a little over one month.
Ask yourself if there is a central theme to your idea that you are burning to explore? (An idea you need to pursue? Something you’re driven to get to know better?) A relationship, emotion, or a conflict that intrigues you? Ever since seeing The Man in the Moon, Reese Witherspoon’s first movie, Stacey has been wanting to write about a sister relationship where the younger sister falls in love with a older boy, who instead falls in love with her older sister. Let other books, plays, movies, and especially, real life, inspire you.
Once you’ve found an idea you love, take a look at your characters—or if you like characters more than ideas, you may want to do this next step first. I don’t think the order matters so much as you end up with both an idea and a character you love. Is there a particular character you would love to write about?
And when I say a character you love, I’m not saying that your character needs to be lovable. When I first started writing Caraval, the very first character I fell in love with was a character named Legend—I would not call him lovable, but I do think he’s intriguing, and mysterious, and it was these qualities that drove me to write about him because I was determined to discover all his secrets.
I think most of us are attracted to secrets. But a character needs more than a few secrets to be truly compelling. They must want something, and go after what they want unabashedly. How many stories have you read featuring a wishy washy main character who does nothing? Exactly. This a basic premise in storytelling—every character must want something. Ask yourself, what do your main characters want and how badly do they want these things? How far are they willing to go? Can you push them further than they’d like to go? And what happens when you do?
For me, answering these questions helps me bring my characters to life.
Finally, find a setting that seduces you. Perhaps it draws you to it because it’s different from anywhere you’ve ever been. Conversely, maybe it feels familiar to something beloved from childhood. Or maybe it’s a terrible and frightening place, yet it holds some allure that is worth risking terror for.
Whenever I sit down to start a new story, I always ask myself the same question: Is this the most interesting place this book could take place? If not, where else could this story occur?
As you work through the intricacies of plot, characters, and setting, those initial feelings of attraction will hopefully blossom into a deeper understanding of your idea, and a story will be born.
Now, it’s your turn. What helps you fall in love with a story as you begin drafting? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!