Choosing and Nailing Your Story Idea
How to find possibly story ideas and decide on the best for your first (or next) book and how to know it’s the one you should be writing.
If you clicked on this blog post, you likely fall into one of two categories. Either you are just a die hard WYBB fan and you read everything I post, or, most likely, you saw the title and immediately clicked on it because you cannot figure out what story you want to start with or focus on next.
Did I nail it or did I nail it? Either way, thanks for clicking.
Regardless of whether this is your first or tenth book, all authors can relate to that feeling when you SO want to be writing BUT you just can’t come up with that perfect story idea. Or maybe you do have a nugget of an idea or more, but you really aren’t committed or sure if it’s the right one to go with.
There are 3 phases to the actual writing process. Want to know what those three phases are?
Phase 1 – Creating
Phase 2 –Preparing & Planning
Phase 3 – Writing
So many first-time authors skip straight from phase one to phase three. Huge mistake. You may not even realize you’ve made this mistake until it’s too late. And by too late, I mean you never get around to finishing the book, or you finish but when you publish, you wind up with low sales and only a handful or lukewarm reviews.
But don’t feel bad or guilty. No one, for some strange reason, really talks about Phase 2. They focus instead on Phase 3 and they might throw in some writing prompts to cover Phase 1.
But I’m not everyone else. Over 10 years ago, I dedicated my life to helping as many authors as possible write not just any old book but their BEST book. And part of that includes teaching them all the things that go into a proper, successful novel, including those things everyone else ignores because they wrongly assume it’s known by all.
In this post, we’re focusing on Phase 1, which is Creating. So, here are the best ways I know of to come up with or pick the best story idea for you to write next.
Read. Then read again. Then read some more.
You may have heard it said by writing experts like Stephen King that, if you want to be a good writer, you must first read as much as you can. And that is so incredibly true. However, there’s not much said after that to tell us how or why we need to read so much. And when I hear some authors say, “I never liked reading. I just write books,” it burns me up inside. Reading is essential to learning and improving your chosen craft (novel writing). How can anyone possibly write books if they really have no idea how those successful authors before them have done it or what readers expect when they crack open their next read?
But there’s more to it than simply speedreading through as many books as you can, calling it good, then sitting down to write. That would defeat the entire purpose.
Instead, you should STUDY the books you read. By that, I mean, before you go to read a book for inspiration or while you’re learning the craft, grab some highlighters, some pens, and some sticky notes, sit down in a quiet place with no distractions, and be in the right headspace to read with an eye toward learning how to write a great novel.
Then, as you read through these books, mark or highlight any words, phrases, or sentences that move you. Put a checkmark or asterisk by paragraphs that perfectly describe something without infodumping. And mark the pages where the author’s writing speaks to you. This is how you study the craft of writing and learn how to write the way established, successful authors write.
I should not have to say this, but I’m gonna. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE! That is not at all what I’m suggesting here. If you copy even one line from another author’s original work, hear me now…you are NOT an author. Yep. I said it, and I’ll say it again. If you are incapable or unwilling to learn how to write a decent sentence, and you’re so lazy you can’t be bothered to try to come up with your own unique, compelling sentence, then do not even bother. As we all learned this week on Facebook, authors who do this WILL eventually be found out, and God help you if you do this and think you’ll ever be able to show your face in the writing community or sell another book for the rest of your existence.
So, in this step of reading to study the craft and get inspired, your purpose is to see if anything you read sparks your imagination and you’re able to then create something you love and can be proud of that is totally unique and NOT like what you read. You’re reading JUST to be inspired, not to copy.
Watch TV/Film (yep, I said it)
Many “experts” disagree with this one for reasons I don’t understand. But I can testify firsthand that there is absolutely plenty of merit behind the concept of watching television and/or films to get inspired for your own original story. Let me explain.
Almost 15 years ago, right after I’d decided to write my first novel but didn’t know what to write, I happened to be watching this great documentary called The Monster in the Family on Lifetime. In a nutshell, it was produced and hosted by the daughter of some famous serial killer, and each week, she visited and talked to another close family member of another serial killer. Good TV.
As I watched this compelling docuseries, my brain started doing that thing all writer brains do. It went way off into left field, and no longer was I paying attention to this great show. I was now wondering to myself, “What would happen to one of these children of serial killers if they wound up being accused of murder one day? I bet everyone would assume she was guilty and it would be hard to convince everyone they weren’t just like dear old dad.”
Just like that, the concept for Like Father, Like Daughter was born. And as you know, this book went on to not only land my first agent, it also led to a publishing deal for six books, one national book award, and hitting the Amazon and USA Today bestseller lists…twice.
So, you see, watching and studying television and film absolutely CAN be inspiring and can help you think of story ideas when you’re stuck. However, just like with books, you aren’t doing this to copy ideas from anyone else. You’re simply watching and waiting for inspiration to strike. And the best way to do that is to only watch things in your chosen genre. For example, if you want to write crime/suspense, watch a lot of real crime TV (like I do every night). Want to write fantasy? Watch fantasy movies on Prime or wherever you get your streaming movies.
Bottom line, it is a perfectly acceptable way to come up with an original story idea, so you should consider trying it if you’re stuck.
Good, old-fasioned writing prompts
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but while 99.99% of authors know that writing prompts exist, they don’t know where to find them or how to properly use them. I’m going to show you both in just a moment.
But first, don’t let anyone tell you that using writing prompts is “cheating” or “cutting corners!” It absolutely is not. There is nothing at all wrong with taking a generic, non-copyrighted sentence someone has put out there for the express purpose of prompting writers, and turning it into your very own unique story that stretches over 80,000 words and is completely with your own unique characters, setting, and plot. So, there. Get that out of your mind now.
With that out of the way, let me give you my top 3 best ways to find writing prompts.
Since this social platform relies on hashtags so heavily, all you have to do is go to the search bar at the top and type exactly this: #writingprompts. Instantly, your page will fill with the thumbnail images of writing prompts that are clear to read and usually surrounded by lovely graphics. If these are hard to read, tap on one of the first ones you see, then it will bring up the full image and you simply scroll up from there.
This is NOT a social media app as most people assume. It’s actually the second biggest search engine in the world. (Side note: if you’re an author and you’re not on Pinterest…big mistake!) To find writing prompts, simply type those words in the search bar (you don’t need hashtags, but you can if you want). Your feed will fill with portrait sized thumbnails of writing prompts that you can pin to your own board and use later. Even better, if you click on the one you like best, odds are, it’s actually the cover to a great blog (like this one) that has a list of even more writing prompts.
My favorite website for authors! This site has literally everything and then some. There’s even a writing prompt tool (CLICK HERE)! When you land on that page, you’ll see that, at the top, there’s a dropdown menu. Click that and select your desired genre. Your page will fill with over 100 very helpful writing prompts for THAT genre only! It’s my absolute favorite writing prompt tool. So this definitely needs to be a page you bookmark.
To wrap things up, let’s discuss what to do with these writing prompts so they are more effective.
As you’re scrolling through whatever feed you’ve chosen, anytime you come across a prompt you even sort of like, copy and paste (or type if you can’t) that prompt into a blank, new Word Doc. Keep doing this until you’ve been through all that show up or until you feel you have plenty to choose from.
Then, read through them one time, and if any of them don’t spark a thing in your brain, delete them. Do this until you have 3-5 prompts left which you feel have a least some merit to them. These are the prompts you’re going to build upon.
Then, set aside some time one day (a different day) to sit down at your desk and read through them with a fresh pair of eyes. This time, with each prompt, try to expand that one sentence into a short paragraph. Don’t even think about plot, characters, conflict, setting, etc. right now. Just flesh it out slightly more. Do this until you now have 3 – 5 paragraph ideas.
Now, here’s the really important final step. Read through them one more time, making sure you’re alone in a quiet place with no distractions of any kind. This time, I want you to use your computer’s “Read Aloud” functionality to do just that…read it aloud. Close your eyes as each paragraph is read. As it reads, see if you FEEL anything in any of those paragraphs. See if any of them play like a movie in your mind. If you find one that does both, THAT is your story idea. And here’s why.
If you’re hearing one short, simple paragraph about your story idea, and you can start to imagine it in your brain, and it causes you to feel even the slightest tingle of emotion…guess what? That’s exactly how your reader will feel when you tell them about your story or they read your blurb eventually. And better yet, once you fully develop your characters, create your setting, and flesh out your entire plot, can you imagine how they’re going to react emotionally then? That’s how you know you have a winner.
Because, as writers, our goal should never be “just to write” or to sell as many books as possible. Selling books and making money should be an added bonus. Rather, what our goal should be is to evoke emotions in our readers…make them FEEL something. If you can do that, congratulations, you’ve written a book that readers will not only love but they’ll tell everyone they know about it, and before you know it, your books will be flying off the proverbial shelf.
Now that we’ve been through all the things that you need to do in Phase 1 of writing a book, hang tight because you’re still NOT QUITE ready to sit down and write. But since I can’t write another 2,000 words in this blog about Phase 2, I have the perfect suggestion for you.
Sign up for our FREE Facebook Challenge which begins February 22, 2021! Yes. I said FREE. Over the course of 5 days, I’ll reveal the 5 most crucial things all writers must do (Phase 2) before they even sit down to write that book. And once again, it’s totally FREE.
To ensure you can attend this free, fun, informative event, even if you don’t think you can be there every day for 40 minutes only (you’ll get the full playback that Friday), you MUST register. And the only way to register is by clicking this link right here.
Once you click and follow that link, simply enter your name and email, then sit back and rest. I’ll do all the rest. You’ll get an email with what to expect, how it works, etc. within just a few minutes. Then, the week of the event, you’ll receive one short email every morning with instructions for that day. And that’s it. It truly will be a game changer for your writing. I guarantee it.
I hope to see you all there.