Falling In Love With A New Story

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!


4 Responses to Falling In Love With A New Story

  1. Arvilla Aug 26 2016 at 11:58 am #

    I wrote 40,000 words of a novel–maybe that’s half way through; then started getting mixed emotions about it. I loved it–but then I began having other affairs–a short story here, flash fiction on my blog,a one night stand with poetry that turned into a year long odyssey with rhymes. I told myself I had to get back to my first love and you have helped me see that I need to work on my characters and setting in my novel. Thanks.

  2. Marc Vun Kannon Aug 26 2016 at 7:31 pm #

    For me it’s partly the challenge of coming up with something so odd that only I could write it (“It’s a Marc Vun Kannon book” should be the only useful description), along with some really good characters to follow around as they tell the story to me. For me writing is a journey of self-exploration, looking at all this stuff my mind comes up with. Even if my stories are never seen by anyone else, I’m a different person for having written them, and I like to think I’m a better one. A story that won’t give me that is a story that I won’t spend much time on. If I eventually become the sort of person who can get some juice out of it, I’ll pick it back up when that happens.

  3. Amy S. Aug 26 2016 at 11:02 pm #

    I needed this now! I have dozens of ideas but I feel like I’m “in love” with a different one every day, which makes it extremely hard to settle on one to work. I can definitely benefit from digging a bit deeper in all these areas to really find the right story to love right now.

  4. lisa ciarfella Aug 28 2016 at 7:58 pm #

    I’m not exactly sure what makes me fall in love with a manuscript, but, I know I’ve experienced the “when to stop” writing one for sure!

    last semester, my thesis advisor wanted me to expand a story I’d started for her in a nonfiction class, and turn it into a novel. I didn’t really want to, but she seemed so sure it would work. So I tried, for months, all summer really. And I knew when the writing became too emotional and too difficult because it was, after all, non-fiction, that it was time to ditch it and start writing what I was writing before she talked me into it.

    And now I’m more than halfway through my crime fiction novel, and loving it!-

    Bottom line for me, don’t torture yourself! Life’s too short!

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