Monday, November 21, 2011

How to Come Up With A Great Story, Part 1

I have a lot of writer friends. Lots. LOL

One of the saddest things I’ve seen most of us go through is what I call ten-book syndrome. The inability to sell that tenth book.

Now, lest you miss my point, ten-book syndrome doesn’t have to happen exactly at book ten. But it happened to me at book ten. It also happened to most of my friends either right before (book 7 or 8) or right after (book 11 or 13) book ten. And it will probably happen to you too.

So what is the reason for this hellish, horrible torment I call ten-book syndrome?

Lack of a good idea.

What? Lack of a good idea? Preposterous. I have three million ideas. I have notes. I have workbooks. I have slideshow presentations of all the great ideas I'm coming up with!

No, you don't. (LOL) Right now you have three million ideas jumping around in your head. But as you write them, and editors criticize them and reject some of them, you will come to see that some of the ideas you have aren’t really good. They don’t work. Or some of them are partial ideas. Maybe good enough for a novella, but not whole books. And some might even only be good as story threads or secondary romances in better stories.


A good idea has to be strong enough to sustain an entire book.

If you’re writing a category romance, that means the story of how your hero and heroine fall in love has to have a conflict strong enough that readers won’t be sure these two can have a happy ending for at least 50,000 to 75,000 words.

If you’re writing a single title romance, there must be a bigger, broader story added to your romance, with enough story threads to create a rich, textured tale of around 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Now, tack onto this the fact that readers (and editors) expect you to become a better writer (better with words, better with scenes and better with plot) with every book and you will see that an idea that might have worked around book #3 might not work as book #11 because it’s not as strong as it needs to be to sustain the reader expectation that you’re going to get better with every book.

Sheesh! It’s no wonder so many people flounder and fail.

You bet it is.

So how do we get around this?

Well, the easy answer is to learn what it takes to have a great idea.

I know readers of this blog come from several different genres and write for multiple publishers, so no one answer that I give you will fit all.

But I can tell you this. After writing for awhile, most of us get a sense of “how much story” we need to have for whatever publisher, line or genre we're writing. So most of us are pretty good with that.

But how do you know the “better” stuff? How do you figure out what it takes to make your next book “better”?

Two tips...

1. Keep all your synopses. I didn’t do this and I was sorry. When I struggled, my then agent, Alice Orr, said, Go look at your last synopsis. See what you did. See what they liked.

And, well, I didn't have that old synopsis. (This was back before I had a computer!) So I was stuck!

The purpose of keeping your synopsis is to see what book 2 looked like, book 3, book 7…book 22. See what you did at a glance…and, suggestion…if you didn’t end up with a good synopsis…write one. Just two pages. That way, you can go back, review what you did…see if you are getting better, and your books are getting stronger. But more than that, see who you were as a writer. What you wrote. And also see (be honest) what you could have done better.

Because, remember, your goal is to be getting better all the time!

2. Start taking notes on your editor comments. I took a bundle of notes when I fell into ten-book syndrome and those notes became my most popular workshop CAN THIS MANUSCRIPT BE SAVED. I focused on editing as I was working my way through 10-book syndrome because that’s the angle I was getting from my [then] editor.  She wasn’t helping me come up with ideas but was helping me to “fix” my stories. But even those glory days were over. She wanted me to be able to work more independently. (I hang my head in shame that it took me that long to realize that! LOL)

So I took tons of notes of what she was telling me I was doing wrong, what needed to be beefed up, what wasn’t working, and the next time I hit a bad spot in a book, I figured out why myself!

But more than that, I boiled the qualities of a great book down to story, scene and word, and, later (because I kept studying!) I discovered the lowest common denominators of a great story. Not lowest common denominators for what makes a great “category romance” but lowest common denominators for a great story. Because at their hearts great books do have a few things in common (no matter what the genre). And, again, I got a workshop out of it. STORY, THEME AND VEHICLE.
But that's where we stop today. We'll talk a bit about those lowest common denominators next week!

By the way, if you're one of my regular readers and you want to thank me for being so candid about could pre-order KISSES ON HER CHRISTMAS LIST! [LOL...not really shameless self promotion...just an honest request...since I do need to pay my mortgage! :)]
Happy Monday!

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