How do you know if your story idea is a keeper?

13/07/2017 Writing 14

How do you know if your story idea is a keeper?

As writers, we’re constantly coming up with fresh story ideas, and inevitably some of them will be absolute gold, whilst others…well others won’t be! I, for one, have definitely cringed at some of my ideas when looking back through old notebooks and my Evernote folders, and thought ‘what the hell was I thinking?!’. But at the time it must have seemed like a good idea, because why else would I have written it down?

So how do you tell the difference between a good idea that you should definitely follow up (or ‘a keeper’, as I think of it) and a dud? Well here’s a few indicators that your shiny new idea is a keeper:

  • You’re so excited about it you want to start writing right now.

Sometimes a good story idea will slowly start to grow and germinate in your mind, maturing like some kind of stinky cheese until it’s ripe enough to start writing, and that’s perfectly fine. But often the sign of a really good idea is when it comes to you suddenly and you’re so excited by it you want to start writing right now.

Of course there’s a chance that the initial burst of inspiration will burn out, but often if an idea gives you that level of excitement from the start, it’ll continue to excite you, and it’s going to be a keeper!

  • It sounds like a story you’d like to read.

There’s a great quote by Toni Morrison that goes, ‘if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’  Therefore one way to tell if an idea is something you should work on or discard is to think about whether or not you would want to read that story if it was by another author.

You could even write a book blurb for it, and look at it as if it’s the blurb of a random book you’ve picked up off the library shelf or seen for sale in a bookshop. If it’s something you would genuinely be excited to read, then there’s a good chance that other people would be too, and the idea is probably a keeper! 

  • It stands the test of time.

Good ideas are usually the ones that still seem like good ideas after the initial burst of inspiration (and yes, I know I said in the first point that the ones you want to write right now are often best, but that doesn’t mean you should start writing them immediately!). Therefore it can be a good idea to note down any ideas you suspect could be truly great and then give them a little time, to see if you still love them just as much a week or two down the line. If you do, you could have a keeper on your hands!

  • You can’t stop thinking about it.

Ever since that shiny new idea popped into your head, you haven’t been able to stop thinking about: not when you’re at work, or on the bus, or in the shower, or even when you’re reading something else. Good ideas don’t like to be forgotten after all, so an idea that won’t leave is probably a keeper (and this is yet another reason to note down ideas and wait a bit – to see if you forget the idea, or if it nags at you, begging to be written)!

So how do you personally separate your good ideas from your bad/OKish ideas? How do you know when you’ve found a keeper?

14 Responses to “How do you know if your story idea is a keeper?”

  1. Melissa @ Quill Pen Writer

    I use the “time will tell” method the most with my shiny new ideas. When they pop into my head I scribble down everything that comes to mind, then I leave it for days, weeks, sometimes even months! (I think my current WIP stewed in my mind for around eight or more months!) As I can get ideas quite frequently, it’s my favoured way to cull the duds and find the keepers. If I still love it after so long, it has to have some worth, right? 🙂
    Another lovely post! 😀

    • Laura

      Sounds like a good way to find the keepers! My latest idea developed kind of like that – I was super excited when it first came to me so I scribbled everything I could think of down, and then tried to leave it for a week or so to see if I still like it. I did thankfully, and a few weeks into writing it I’m still loving it, so it seems like a good system 🙂
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  2. Dina

    Ahh. This is so helpful, Laura. I have two ideas mulling about. My confidence is not really high when it comes to anything, really, but that kind of bleeds into my writing. I’m hoping to write a little bit every day and see what happens.

    • Laura

      I’m glad you found this helpful!
      I’m sure your confidence will improve with time, and writing a little bit every day will definitely help. Good luck with your ideas! 🙂

  3. Greg

    I like that Morrison quote, I think that’s so true. And the writing a blurb idea is a great one! Had not thought of that!

    I kind of agree that letting it sit and percolate for a while is a good way to see if the idea holds up. It’s a great feeling when they do!

    • Laura

      Yeah, I love that quote! And I definitely always try to write things I would like to read 🙂
      It definitely is the best feeling when your idea still holds up a few weeks down the line!

  4. Pamela

    Another sign for me is if my sister is excited about it. It’s very easy for me to say THIS ONE IS IT for each story I come up with, but if my sister is as, or even more excited about it than I am, then I know that crap needs to be written ASAP, which is what’s going on right now with my WIP. I’m lazy but she’s like those hardcore coaches that keep screaming in your ear to MOVE IT.

    • Laura

      That’s so great that you have someone who you can bounce ideas off like that! I definitely think I need someone screaming in my ear sometimes to get me writing 🙂
      I’m so weird about my ideas and refuse to tell anyone else about them for ages for fear they’ll think they’re stupid, but in hindsight, it’s probably best if someone tells me if my ideas are stupid before I start writing! 🙂

  5. Rachana

    I personally separate my good ideas from the mediocre ones by first writing them all down and coming back to them after weeks or months to see if I’m still interested in them. I mean it’s basically what you said about how they should stand the test of time! The problem with ideas that I want to start working on right away is that, after spending a bunch of time on it, I might lose interest and/or realize it’s actually not that great after all.

    • Laura

      I’ve definitely done that too where I’ve been super excited about an idea, worked on it loads for a few weeks and then realised it isn’t that great, and that always really sucks! That’s why I do always try and force myself to do the whole ‘test of time’ thing now, but it can be so hard when you love the idea that much.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  6. Victoria

    I absolutely agree with all of your points! For me, an idea that stands the test of time is particularly important. I’ve had a basic outline and even a title for a story I’ve wanted to write for almost 10 years. Now that it’s finally coming to fruition, the wait has made it all the more exciting (though I’m not sure why I waited so long in the first place!)

    • Laura

      An idea that you still love 10 years down the line definitely has to be a keeper, so I can see why you would be so excited to finally write it! Best of luck with it! 🙂

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