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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Ideas that fizzle

   
Author Topic: Ideas that fizzle
Matt.Simpson01
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I tend to have ideas that sound great as a story. I plot it out in my head, kind of have the story playing out. But, when I sit down to write the story out, nothing sounds right. It doesn't make sense when i try to put it down on paper, per se.

This is just something that i keep going through. good ideas that never pan out. it's starting to bug me really bad, cause i want to write, but then when i try to, it doesn't seem to feel right.

any input on how to flesh out my ideas would be appreciated.


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LDWriter2
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Not much time to say much right now but I have had that problem at times.

Sometimes I see a great scene in my head but as I try to type it out it loses something in the translation. That is probably my writing ability. Other times it's an idea for a whole story or basic novel plot but as I try to think of where to go with it the idea fizzles. At times I decide it wasn't that good after all but other times I just have to put it in the shelf sort of to speak.

But practice and reading how to books should help.


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muranternet
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Do you write the ideas down? As in, "Ah, I have an idea. Where's storyideas.txt..." I have a little file like this where I throw in my one liner ideas, then if I get an idea to expand I just start a piece of scrap with nothing but summary. If it gets complicated I cut and paste into an actual outline. Then if your concentration or time is limited, you just do an expansion on that outline, or take one chunk of it and flesh it out, and pretty soon you've done them all and can go back and edit.

I used to write music and shorts like that, plot in head, final draft only, but I'm older and stupider now. I find the scrap summary/outline helps me maintain my concentration.

Also, my scrap summaries look terrible. "A duck walks into a bar. Bartender starts to recount the joke about putting it on his bill, but the duck pulls out a machinegun and sprays the ceiling. Duck takes the money and a bottle of single malt while everyone cowers. When the cops show up, the bartender cannot be found. He's already after the duck, swearing to get the bottle back..." Just run-ons and typos and the like. Nobody else is going to read it, so there's no pressure to make it look right, which makes it easier to just go with it. Sometimes I'll just find myself writing dialogue in the middle of the summary.


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JohnColgrove
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What do I when I have ideas that don't seem right (or whatever)? I keep it and make another draft and change certain things until it fits. NEVER get rid of your ideas for any reason. Just because they didn't work at that particular point doesn't mean they woun't work at all, trust me on that one. Example...

In my WIP I combined creationism and evolutionism along with every other theory I could find that dealt with the creation of life in the universe. At first it failed rather quickly and I eventually got rid of it. I eventually forgot about the whole thing and many years down the road I remembered that I didn't try it this certain way. So I tried it and boom it worked, with a few minor changes of coarse.

So yeah, keep your ideas, learn why it didn't work, and don't give up...even if you or people around you want to (reference to myself on that). Even if the ideas don't work at all in that story, still keep it because they could work in a different one.

[This message has been edited by JohnColgrove (edited March 23, 2011).]


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Meredith
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Two things:

The first is advice from Kevin J. Anderson. Dare to be bad--at first. For most (not all) of us, we are going to have to revise our story at least once or twice. Use the first draft to just get the story down. Once the story is on paper (or screen) you can fix it. But you can't edit a blank page.

Second, sometimes, if a story just doesn't work, it can help to put the story on the shelf for a while, work on something else, and then take the old story out. Try to reimagine it. Play what if. What if you change the gender of the protagonist? How does that change the story? (That worked for me on SEVEN STARS ) What if you change something else? What if you combine it with this other idea?

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited March 23, 2011).]


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genevive42
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There could be a few things stopping you from getting your ideas to a finished story. Here are some thing to think about and see if any apply.

An idea is just an idea, it is not a story. The trick to making an idea into a story lies in making it about people and how said idea affects their lives. Are you getting from the idea stage to actually having a plot?

Maybe you're being too hard on yourself. It's possible that you've built the idea up to be so grand that no story could live up to it. You've defeated yourself before you've started. If this is the case, just write through it. Go ahead and write some crap and let it be the fertilizer for the seed of your idea. Probably within a page or two you'll start to get the flow of the idea that you really intended and you can cut the garbage out later.

Oftentimes I write a loose 'outline' by writing about the story - this happens, then this happens and he reacts by doing that. It's just a frame to hang the real story on and it's subject to change at a whim. But it's a start. And even if you don't want to massively outline, it is good to know where you plan to end it. Then you have something to aim at.

OSC says that you're never actually ready to write on an idea as soon as you come up with it. Write the idea down and let it percolate a bit. And no matter how good you think it is, ask yourself, 'what else could happen here?' Run through different scenarios within your story and make sure yours is both logical and interesting. Much interest lies in how your characters deal with the problems you present them. Make sure your story has conflict. Make sure you know what it is that your characters are trying to accomplish.

Some ideas sound great at first, but just don't have story legs, at least without some modification. Scribble it down and save it for later. As was previously mentioned, no idea is wasted. That cool bit that didn't work into its own story might end up as an interesting side event in a bigger story or your novel. Or something else might spring from it completely. I have a 350 word flash that spawned an 11,000 word novelette; I'm hoping both will be publishable.

When in doubt, just keep writing. If the story doesn't come out the way you want but you still like the idea, you can always rewrite it. Words are free. And if you don't care about the idea anymore, move onto the next one and use what you've learned to make it better.

So those are some thoughts. I hope they help.


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Robert Nowall
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I've been noticing lately that the stories I actually work on usually start with the characters, or some characters, already in there in the middle of it. I come up with this or that idea about this or that---but until a character is involved, nothing much happens.

This is limiting, too---I can come up with what seems like a terrific idea for something, like an alternate history, but I can't get it rolling until I know who's in it.


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rstegman
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Matt,

genevive42 has it right in her note.

I am great at leaving projects dangling. I also have more ideas than I can write.

What I do is note down maybe a paragraph of a concept when I get them, I have little pads of paper everywhere to record them. Then I essetially write thumbnails of the story idea.
as seen at http://www.xprodigy.net/board/index.php in Writer's Roost (or directly http://www.xprodigy.net/board/viewforum.php?f=9&sid=61a1520630912995215e3bccb363ddcc )
I do an idea a day and have done so since 1997. These are my idea storage. If I need something to write, I can dig through them and pick out a good one.

The thing is, is that I can see instantly if an idea is worth developing. It takes about an hour or less to write one of these. IF the concept is still strong after writing my thumbnail I can develop it farther.

Most of these are based on a scene or situation. I will write the rules to make the concept understandable and then write something to lead up to the concept. After that I will try to button it up, something that fails often.

If an idea is not good I can forget it with no trouble. If I have something else to work on I can let it set and it will remind me about it later.

I like to have something to look at when world or character building and if I think of a plot change It is easy to make the change on the thumbnail to see if it will work.



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mrmeadors
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Oftentimes I find that when an idea does not work for me, it is because I am working with just the one idea. I am trying to make an idea into a story--it doesn't work. At least not for me. What DOES work for me is taking two ideas. One idea combined with another. Often, the ideas, if they are the right ones to be together, act as catalysts for one another, they work with each other and bring out the best in each other. When I go to write a story, I take one idea from the file folder, the one that is really talking to me. Then I say, "What can I do with this idea?" and I try to find the second idea that will really make it shine. And mind you, it's not always two plot ideas (though t can be). It can be a plot idea with a setting idea. A character idea with a plot idea. etc. Throw a monkey wrench into your idea and see what happens .

M


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genevive42
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Yes, monkey wrenches are good.
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shimiqua
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Maybe you are plotting out your story too much. Then when you sit to write, you are trying to remember your creativity, instead of being creative.

When I write a novel, I have to stew on it for a while. I daydream and follow the story around, until I have a good idea of what the beginning middle and end is.

And then, when I can't bare not writing the actual story, I finally give in, and then follow the words on the page, and not the daydream. Things change, generally for the better. I add details, character nuances I hadn't imagined... I create the story while writing the story. An idea is really just a trigger.

I'd suggest not plotting so much, or else start writing before you've figured everything out. And if that doesn't work, flip a detail or a plot point.

In the daydream version of my last novel, my heroes defeated the villain in the first battle, but while writing I discovered that was a bad idea, it totally weakened the villain and the sense of dread. When I flipped the plot point it lead to something so interesting (for me at least) that I had no inkling of when I started.

Hope this makes sense, and helps.
~Sheena


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posulliv
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quote:
I tend to have ideas that sound great as a story. I plot it out in my head, kind of have the story playing out.

What happens when, instead of plotting the story out in your head, you just sit down and write while figuring out how the story plays out? Have you tried that?

I sometimes lose interest in a story once the fun part of dreaming it up is over. Writing it out and filling in the details becomes a chore. In those cases most of the story tends to remain in my head and never makes it into the manuscript.

This technique of 'writing while making it up' might not work for you, but you could give it a try if you haven't. I find it helps with certain stories.


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shimiqua
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“If you know what you are going to write when you're writing, it's going to be average.” - Derek Walcott
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EVOC
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I play with an idea in my head a lot before I ever get it into story mode. However, as soon as I get a new idea I pull out the notebook and jot it down. Then I find myself toying with the ideas in my head on my commute, during down time, or while I am reading other works.

The good ideas I can't shake so I sit down and type them out. I rarely plot out my story so to speak. I have a plot in mind, but I don't write the road map.

This all being said, some ideas (mostly for short stories) have stalled out on me and I realized there is no story to tell there. But I never get rid of them.


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Matt.Simpson01
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Thanks for the input folks. I think that what I've been forgetting to do is to develop characters for the story. Thinking on it for a day has led me to realize that I was thinking of stories, but not characters for them. How can you have a story without characters?

This brings to mind the creative writing class I took last semester. (Side note: I graduate with an associates degree in computer networking in May. All done with night and online classes.) One of the things that I read in the small text was about how the books and stories that we read these days are character driven stories, whereas in the past, i.e. pre-1950's i think, stories were plot driven, and you could interchange characters in most any story and it wouldn't have mattered.

I guess I should have realized what I was blocking myself from doing. Though, sometimes you do need a little help seeing what it right in front of you.


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Robert Nowall
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At risk of contradicting myself, you might want to start typing up your story and see if any characters emerge as you do.
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genevive42
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Matt, don't feel bad about not realizing it. That's what learning is all about.
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muranternet
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Two things popped into my head on your second post. One is I sometimes scrapbook characters as well as plots as soon as the characters get too big for me to process easily, or if the work is really long and I want to keep things consistent.

The other is On Writing. Stephen King describes how he plunks down 2D cardboard figures into his story and lets them develop as the story goes on. It's not something I personally understand fully, but that section might speak to you.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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All through this topic, I have been reading "an idea" and "an idea" and "an idea."

Please, go back and read what mrmeadors said about one idea not being enough.

And then reread what shimiqua said, especially

quote:
An idea is really just a trigger.

"An idea" does NOT equal "a story."

OSC has also said that you have to have at least two ideas for a story, and I submit that the longer the story is, the more ideas you need.

Of course a story is going to fizzle if all it has is one idea. Sustaining a whole story is too much to ask of "an idea."

People worry sometimes that someone will steal their ideas. But ideas are a dime a dozen and can not be copyrighted. What you copyright is the story that you created by combining more than one idea.

And your story is going to be unique because you are going to be combining different ideas from what anyone else may combine. Even if everyone were to start out with the same idea. In order to turn that single idea into a story, each person would have to add at least one other idea, and everyone of them would add ideas that were different from everyone else.

Please, please, please. Stop thinking in terms of "an idea," okay?


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Natej11
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This may sound strange, but I usually have more ideas than I know what to do with. Sometimes I'll sit down and flesh one out a little, just as a general thing, and then in a book I'm working on later I'll realize that the idea could fit well in the book as a sub-plot or part of that world.

I wouldn't stress too much about a great idea that you don't have time to work on now. It's not like they'll just go away . I've got a couple of ideas for sci-fi books that I never even bothered to write down, but every now and again I'll think of them.


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LDWriter2
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quote:

This may sound strange, but I usually have more ideas than I know what to do with. Sometimes I'll sit down and flesh one out a little, just as a general thing, and then in a book I'm working on later I'll realize that the idea could fit well in the book as a sub-plot or part of that world.


That be not strange. I, myself, have many ideas I just don't have time for. I have saved some on a file or two but others I let sit in my mind to fade away or to become like granite so I won't forget them.

Sometimes my slogan is "Too many ideas, too little time"


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JohnColgrove
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With me it's not too many ideas as much as it's too many series of novels to write. I have well over twenty thought of and I plan on writing all of them...lol
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micmcd
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I always thought of ideas fizzling as being my internal editor telling me this story wasn't working out. On the other hand, it's been about eight years since I started writing and I'm only now finishing my first book (but I think it's actually good).
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JohnColgrove
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If it takes eight years it takes eight years. There is an author (don't remember his name) that wrote a classic and it took him ten.
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Matt.Simpson01
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@Kathleen

I understand what you're talking about. I may have used the wrong term when i said "idea." I guess you could say the stories I have thought about but couldn't finish for some reason always seemed to start out with a blurb about the story. Such as, 'A scientist discovers a minature society living in the cracks of the sidewalk on Bourbon St."

Those are the types of concepts that I envisioned a story being about. My problem was that I was missing who the scientist was. The details about the person, how he/she acted, the minutia about the characters that would bring the story to life.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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And my point is that "A scientist discovers a minature society living in the cracks of the sidewalk on Bourbon St" is just one idea.

When you add things like "who the scientist was [and] details about the person, how he/she acted, the minutia about the characters," you are adding additional ideas to your first idea.


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kevenwall
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I think it was OSC (and I apologize if someone else has already said this same thing) that said that great ideas are just the beginning of a great plot, but there is a lot of work to go from there.

The way I understood it was that good ideas layer and weave together to form good plots, and that the characters and world they live in need to be developed before a good story will come together.

The story I'm writing now has stalled, because I'm trying to find a good set of rules for my fantasy world and magic...even though I feel the plot is a good one.


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