One thing I struggle with as a writer is having too many ideas. Sure, it's great to have the creative mojo flowing almost all the time, but not all story ideas are created equal. And not all of them deserve the same amount of attention (or any attention at all).
This year I'm working on stepping up my game. Pushing forward again. Honing my craft, as ever. But this time it doesn't mean what it's meant in the past. I feel like my actual writing chops are solid on the technical side of stringing words together, creating interesting multi-dimensional characters, dialogue, and world building. Those are awesome building blocks that I've worked hard to shape over many years.
Now it's time to focus on being creative "on demand" while sifting through all these demanding plot bunnies!
Here's my battle plan:
Know the difference between a premise and a plot.
Most of the ideas I come up with are parts of a story: characters, a world building element, a fantastical species. These can be interesting things to base a story on, but by themselves they're not a story.
I used to just run with a premise and figure the story would come to me as I wrote, but that's a dangerous tactic that's lead to more unfinished projects than I'd like to count. It leads to gaping, story breaking plot holes. Or, just as bad, leads to the narrative running out of steam due to lack of stakes.
Understand that stakes are the beating heart of a plot.
What keeps a story interesting? What motivates a reader to carry on to the end?
The stakes: whatever it is that the character(s) might lose if they can't change their circumstances.
My stories have often suffered from a lack of compelling enough stakes, so now I'm making sure to think of them in the earliest planning stages. I have a note stuck in my plot bunny notebook: Low stakes are NO stakes!
Not literally, but plot-wise figuratively. Instead of waiting until I've finished a manuscript to write out my query, or at the very least the kernel sentence of the plot (which is the meat of the query), I switch it around.
I use this formula for writing a one sentence pitch that I learned while participating in #PitchWars on Twitter last year:
When [Inciting Incident], [Main Character] must [Choice/Decision] or [Stakes].
Now I use the formula as the primary foundation when coming up with a new story. It's the plot in a neat little package. And if it's not working out? That means it's not quite a plot yet and needs more work. The result is this realization of a huge problem now happens in the planning stages, before the MS happens, before I've wasted dozens of hours working on something that is inherently broken.
(Rachelle Gardner has a more in depth article on writing a one sentence summary on her blog.)
Or, plot bunny husbandry.
This all leads to being able to more easily come up with a story and focus on it with confidence and purpose.
Instead of snatching up a plot bunny from the wilds (which may in fact only be a premise bunny), I'm now picking and choosing them thoughtfully. Selectively breeding them in captivity.
I've been having a lot of fun scouring anthology calls for story ideas that spark my imagination. Then I write them down and start on my little process above. Whichever one calls to me the most, that's the one I focus on. Having a deadline really helps, too, which current anthology calls provide.
And knowing that not making it into the anthology (or missing the deadline) won't be the end for my story is a comfort, too. I'll still have my story ready to submit somewhere.
My writing process is still a combination of pantsing/plotting (I figure out the plot, characters and their motivations, beginning, inciting incident, and a few ideas for the end, but connect all the dots as I write.), only now the plot isn't this beast that has to be tamed (or not!) while I'm deep in writing mode. It still throws some punches, sure, but it's not trying to devour the manuscript from the inside out.
I've just finished my first story written this way, and now I'm on to the next!
Hopefully, if you struggle with pinning down plot, these tips will help you too :)