How to Find a Story Idea and Keep It

Have you ever met someone who says, “I’m a writer. I get all these great ideas, but I just don’t know which one to choose!” Or maybe: “I love to write, but I can never finish a story. I just have too many!”

I’m sure most of us have been through the same situations. I know I have. Once upon a time, when I was a beginning writer (about five years ago, if any of you are curious . . .),I was constantly getting an idea, writing down the first chapter, and moving on to another idea, writing down the first chapter, and then moving onto to yet another idea. On and on and on, until finally I said, “Okay. I’m going to stop and focus on this one really good idea that I have and I love.”

But how do you decide which story to focus one? How do you choose?

There are a lot of different methods, and you’ll have to find the right one for you, but my advice would be to:

1. Meditate.
If you get an awesome idea, don’t start writing it out immediately. Think over it some. Does this story capture me? Will it capture my readers? What is the potential of this story? How will I write it? Will I actually stick with it?

2. Write out your protagonist’s bio.
Your protagonist is one character you need to know before you start writing. Who are they? How old are they? What do they look like? What do they like, dislike, dream of, wish for? What is their motivations and goals? Who/what will be their opposition? You will be sticking with your protagonist for a whole short story/book/novel/epic. If you can’t stand them, you better get a new idea, or a new protagonist.

3. Outline the story’s plot.
You don’t need a “several-page-outline-for-every-chapter” kind of outline. Try writing out a sentence for each chapter. “They find this on the island of _.” “They talk and tension increases.” “The main characters finds out the antagonist’s big secret.” etc. Some people don’t like to outline or plan at all, but I am telling you: this will help. You don’t have to make it big or anything, but just a vague outline like this will help you tons in the actual writing process, and it will help you understand where you’re going — and if it’s worth it.

4. Write out a few of your favorite scenes.
The problem with planning and outlining your story is that you don’t really get to write. So take a break from all that boring planning. Write out some scenes that have been boiling in your mind. I love to do this because 1) it helps me understand the characters better, 2) it exercises my writing abilities, and 3) it gives me a burst of creativity.

5. Be patient.
Don’t rush the planning or writing process. Give yourself a break every so often. Let the idea continue to stir in your mind. Writing isn’t something you want to get over with; you want to enjoy every minute of it. So don’t push yourself too hard because of you do, you’re almost guaranteed not to be happy with what you have.

6. Mediate.
Once again, meditate over this idea. After getting to know your protagonist, outlining the story, and writing out a few scenes, does it still capture me? Will it still capture my readers? Do I love it more or less (if it’s less, don’t write this story!)?

And the final question: Will I stick with this story? Through thick and thin, peace and war, love and hate, death and life, pain and health?

These are my suggestions. Feel free to come up with your own (and if you do, I’d love to hear them!). There is never a black-and-white way to write your story, so have some freedom, add a dash of creativity and randomness. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy what you are doing.

~ J. Dominique


8 thoughts on “How to Find a Story Idea and Keep It

  1. Good advice! I’m one of those people who tends not to make any kind of outline before I write, but I find that for longer pieces, after I get some kind of skeleton of a draft together, a timeline at the very least will help me streamline the story when I go back to edit (or add flesh to the bones). It’s a bit of a backward way of doing things, and maybe in the future I’ll try doing it the proper way, but for now I find it works for me. I like to ‘feel’ my way through a story and/or a character, so I’ll often sit down to write something with only a vague idea in mind. Then I’ll let it sit for a bit while the story solidifies in my head, but that way I don’t lose the initial idea in the meantime.

  2. These are awesome tips 🙂 It’s funny that you posted this because I was going to ask for some tips about finishing a novel (I finally got the furthest I ever have in one of my novels, haha. I’m determined to actually finish this time…)

      • You’re welcome and thank you 🙂
        I was just wondering, do you set out a schedule for yourself when writing? (For a while, I told myself I had to write at least 500 words or so for the day)

      • Not really. Lots of time I just write when I have time. I do like to have a routine, but lately my life has been disrupted quite a bit. My goal for each day is 3,000 (2,500 at the least). It’s good, I think, to have a quota for each day. Routine is good for me, but it might not be so much for other people. Really, as long as you have some kind of quota for yourself, you’re good to go! Of course, whatever works best for you is great with me, too. 🙂

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