Sifting Through Story Ideas

I wasn’t sure what to write about this month, so I asked trusty Twitter for advice. Two people in a row asked about sifting through ideas and how to decide what goes in a book. So, that’s what we’re doing.

First: I get it. You’re a writer. You have lots of ideas. You have ~*~imagination.~*~ But how to sort through all of that and put only the best things in the book? Good question.

  1. Maybe you need a list. Or several lists. Whatever.
    I find lists to be very calming things. They make me happy. They make me feel more organized. So when I make lists for a book, it’s all the things I think I’d like to put in that story, from phrases to ideas to objects — everything.
  2. Sometimes I don’t need lists because I’ve already started writing the story, and a cool idea slams into me while I’m brushing my teeth.
    Sound familiar? I bet it’s happened to you too. These ideas are sometimes for the book I’m working on, but sometimes they’re for other books. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which. We’re going to get to the “how to tell” part in a second.
  3. How to tell what goes in this book and what goes in another book. (See, I told you it would be a second.)
    I like to imagine various characters interacting with the thing somehow. (“The thing” being the idea or line or whatever.) Does it feel right? Does it feel more right with another character from another story? How does it fit thematically? And will it ruin all my plans in a good or bad way?
    I’ve seen lots of advice that talks about not hoarding ideas, not saving them for something else because you should just put every cool thing into your current story. And on some level, I get that. The advice is meant to keep you from having only one or two cool things in a story — when you could have lots of cool things! It’s meant to help you complicate situations and worlds, and make the story more interesting in general. But sometimes the idea really does belong elsewhere, and it’s okay to set it aside to fit in another story you have cooking in the back of your mind, or as a concept for a completely new story.
  4. Sometimes the idea doesn’t belong in a story at all because it’s just not that great.
    Sorry. We all have lame ideas sometimes. (I could fill an entire novel with mine!) They can be fun to entertain for a while, but it’s always a good idea to run ideas by trusted friends. You want honest answers to “is this idea dumb?”, just like you want honest answers to “is my hair okay like this?” This is also a point where you need to be really honest with yourself. Does the idea truly fit? Is it going to make the story better/more interesting? If the answer is no, ditch it. You’ve got more ideas where that one came from.

One of the most fun things about being a writer is having lots of ideas! But it can also be frustrating when you’re not sure what goes where, or if it goes anywhere.

I hope this helps offer a little direction when it comes to sorting through everything. And if you have any tips or tricks about how you choose what goes in the book, please feel free to share it in the comments! 


10 Responses to Sifting Through Story Ideas

  1. Tracey M. Cox Dec 7 2015 at 9:25 am #

    Thanks for the post. Sifting through ideas can be a challenge.

    • Jodi Dec 7 2015 at 1:59 pm #

      It totally can! Thanks for reading!

  2. Sheena-kay Graham Dec 7 2015 at 11:52 am #

    I have been a habitual pantser and structure usually ends with me giving up for falling asleep. But I have learned to fit in a flowing structure that helps me write better without getting bored or frustrated. I tried that snow flake method thing once and by the time I finished structuring the novel I no longer wanted to write it. I still cringe anytime I come across the book containing that idea. Sad thing is it was not a bad idea bit structuring it all out just killed the story for me. We all have our ways of writing and while ideas come easy for me (along with book titles) I have seen others where it is super hard and sometimes I leave feeling super bad for them. Some of us have a million books in us while others have maybe one or two. What matters is getting it down on paper and one day maybe share it with the world. Your choice and all.

    • Jodi Dec 7 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      That’s so true! There’s no wrong way to write a book. If you’re writing a book, you’re doing it right!

  3. Sheena-kay Graham Dec 7 2015 at 12:06 pm #

    Oh and I went straight to The Book Depository after commenting and bought The Orphan Queen. I had decided months ago to buy a copy but kept forgetting. Thanks for reminding me with all your pretty words. Oh and I bought it in Hardcover. I am slowly saving to buy certain books in Hardcover. Technically this was supposed to be for Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard since TBD is selling a signed hardcover but hers is not coming out until around January or so and besides I won’t tell if you won’t. *Wink* And I’ll see if I can’t buy the book by around Christmas or so.

  4. Chris Bailey Dec 7 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    Made me laugh! I’m compiling “The Book of Lame Ideas.” It’ll be super!

  5. RC Dec 12 2015 at 5:22 am #

    In one of Orson Scott Card’s books he says he never writes one idea, he always combines two ideas that have been running tracks through his mind, and that’s when the synergy happens. I took his advice and ended up with a convoluted novel that didn’t have a clear focus. Haha I’m sure I didn’t do it right. I’ve also realized since then that sticking to the point is one of OSC’s most consistent problems. His novels are almost always episodic and lacking a certain conventional cohesiveness. So maybe it’s not such great advice for us budding authors. Lol

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