7 Ways to Decide Which Story Idea You Should Write Next

The most important decision a writer will ever make is which story to write. Sometimes that will be an easy decision: the “right” story will be staring us in the face. But sometimes the choices can be overwhelming.

If you’re like me, then you probably have enough story ideas to last you the rest of your life. There they stand, all in a sparkling row, each of them clamoring for your attention, each of them enticing in their possibilities. It’s darn tough to pick just one, when, really, we want to write all of them. So how do you choose?

After finishing my dieselpunk work-in-progress Storming earlier this year, I’m currently in that resting place between stories, and I’m doing my best to figure out which of my ideas is the right one to start on next. I had intended my next book to be a modern-day time-travel suspense story (think The Bourne Identity meets The Time Traveler’s Wife), but I have another idea about a historical superhero (think Spider-Man meets Jane Austen) that is also clamoring for my attention.

Both stories interest me, obviously, but which one is the right one for me to write at this time in my life? Which am I most likely to enjoy writing right now? Which will end becoming the better book?

This is never a decision for any of us to make lightly. Whatever story we choose is one we’re going to be spending the next couple of years with. If we choose the wrong story, we could end up wasting time and expending untold frustration on the project.

But if we choose the right story, we’ll be embarking on an exciting and fulfilling journey that will help us grow as writers and hopefully produce a book we can share with others. Following are the seven factors to consider in deciding which story idea you should write next.

1. Look Beyond the Premise

If your story doesn’t have a great premise, you shouldn’t be writing it. But a great premise, by itself, a great story doth not make. Where do you see this premise leading you? What kind of characters will populate this story? What will they be seeking? Who will be opposing them? What kind of world will they be living in?

2. Realize Loving Parts of a Story Isn’t Enough

Let’s say you have idea for a story set in Rio de Janeiro in the 19th century about two immigrants on the run. You love the setting and the interaction between the two characters, but, frankly, the suspense angle or the reason they’re on the run in the first place simply doesn’t interest you too much. Before you commit to a story, you need to love everything about it. Think through the ramifications of your premise. Are you going to have fun and be able to maintain interest throughout all its logical progressions? Or will you grow bored with some aspects? If you find the latter to be true, then this may not be a story you’re going to want to live with for months on end.

3. Make Your Own Head Explode

If you’re going to have any chance of blowing your readers’ minds, then first you have to blow your own. A story can be a great idea in itself, but if it doesn’t thrill you down to your toenails, then you need to question whether you’re going to have enough passion to see it through. Ask yourself: “Is this a story you were meant to write? Is this a story you can’t not write?” If the answer to either is no, then you might want to rethink.

4. Look for Characters With Strong Voices and Interaction

Not every seemingly great story idea comes complete with the rest of the trappings necessary to make a great book. Think about your characters. Are they already so vibrant in your head that you can sense they’ll have unique and powerful voices on the page? Will they be memorable and definitive? Will they interact with each other in meaningful and important ways? A great premise that lacks great characters is going nowhere fast.

5. Look for a Bigger Story

Most of my story ideas start out with the interaction between two characters. But, by itself, that’s not enough to fill a whole book. Consider your ideas. Can you sense the weight of a bigger story beneath the surface? What are the stakes? Who else will these characters end up affecting through their interaction with each other? If you can’t at least sense the possibility for greater depth, then the idea may not have enough strength to carry itself.

6. Figure Out What Kind of Story It Will Be

You’ve figured out your premise and your characters. So far, so good. But do you know what type of story you want this to be? Don’t sit down to write a story without knowing what you’re trying to create. When I started writing Storming, I knew exactly what I wanted it to be: a fun summer blockbuster sort of story. My understanding of the story’s tone helped me craft it, from start to finish, into a cohesive whole. If you lack that understanding of your story, you won’t be able to create the cohesion and focus you want it to have.

7. Listen to Your Gut

This part is also called “Don’t Be OCD.” I admit it: I like to do things in order, including story ideas. But just because a story idea is the next one in line doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one to be writing at this time. Get in touch with your instincts. Which story feels right? And, more importantly, which ones don’t feel right? Margaret Atwood wisely said,

 …you know when you’re not ready; you may be wrong about being ready, but you’re rarely wrong about being not ready.

No matter how much consideration we invest in choosing our next writing project, we won’t always be able to predict which stories will be successful for us and which won’t. But by considering these seven factors, we can at least eliminate some of the ideas that definitely aren’t ready to be written.

As for me, although I haven’t made a final call yet, I’m definitely leaning toward the notion that my historical superhero story may be the right one for me to be spending time with for the next couple years of my life. Either way, you’ll be seeing an update to my “Currently Writing” page soon!

Tell me your opinion: How will you decide which story you will write next?

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7 Ways to Decide Which Story You Should Write Next

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Katie Franke says:

    Thanks! This has really helped. I am an aspiring writer who has had some short creative nonfiction published, but what I’ve REALLY always wanted to do is write a novel. I’ve been doing it since I was 11. I’ve never written a manuscript that I thought was even remotely worthy of being considered by any publisher, but I’m still writing. Right now I have two “main” story ideas in my head and I’ve been struggling for months to figure out which one to start writing. The one I’ve been forming in the back of my mind for years, and recently it has really taken off. I’ve done a lot of research, I’ve written a full outline and I’m really excited about it, but…it’s going to be a hard book to write. I know it will be. It’s incredible and I love it, but being as inexperienced as I am, I just don’t think I’m ready to tackle it. But my second story idea is great too. I love the idea, I love the characters and I feel it will be better for me to start with because it is far less complex and the end that I have in sight for it is much clearer than the other. So…that’s what I’m going to do. Anyway, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to turn this into a novella. I’m just really happy to have finally made my clear choice. Thanks for all the helpful advice! 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s great! Glad to hear you have a clear path forward. As Margaret Atwood says, “You don’t always know when a story is ready, but you always know when it’s *not* ready.”

  2. Kinza Sheikh says:

    This post popped into my vision right when I finally finished my first novel. 😀
    And interestingly, during reading all the tips, one of my future idea which I had saw in a dream kept popping in my head. It was like everything in that project already fall into place.
    But, I will still take a month off for editing and look around on other shiny ideas. Who knows if another one end up being better and again my actual writing process start faltering because I start feeling the urge to write that one. 🙂
    This post will remain in my bookmark at least until Jan when I actually start working on my next novel.
    Thanks for always being there when writers need ya. 😀

  3. Thank you for this post I can always find help somewhere on your site. Currently I am at that cross road of which story do I work on. Nano’s was a rewrite of last years and neither version feel right.

    I am trying to figure out which of my many stories to now work on, after counting them all both first draft completed and just beginning there are 30 such stories. Of these I can not figure out which one to work on after nano. And not writing isnt an option either. I am not myself when I dont write. I write mostly suspense mystery ghost with a hint of romance. The one… well two stories I keep going back to amonst them all is “Camera’s View” and Patricia( the working title as of write now) . They are both ghost stories where the lead characters need to solve the mystery of the ghosts that appears to them, now to figure which of these two to work on and how not to feel guilty that I didnt choose the others .

  4. What if we have the reverse problem? I began my WIP because it was my only story idea, and by the time I decided I wanted to be a novelist, the plot was fully developed.

    Now, 3 years later, I still have no ideas for the next story. I have a character backstory for a love interest, but I’ve been straining my brain for months and still haven’t come up with any kind of premise. My list of “what if” questions hasn’t sparked anything that intrigues me!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Don’t pressure yourself. Try to find the step in the process that you’re in alignment with right now–whether that’s *not* writing until you have an idea that excites you, or just freewriting to see what happens. It’s also useful to pursue other creative interests. Seek out great movies, books, music, art, etc. Soak yourself in it and see what happens.

  5. This is an amazing article! Gonna tweak my concept so I can really ignite my passion and bring out its potential.

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