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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Don’t Write That Story! Sit on it!



Sometimes I wake up in the morning with this great idea for a story. Do hurry to the keyboard, drop everything, and start writing the story?

No.

Whenever I have a great idea for a story I sit on it.

Why? Because sometimes those great ideas for a story are just that: Ideas. No plot, no characters, no dialogue, no structure, no form.

Ideas are great things. But an idea is not a story.

A good story comes from the execution of those ideas. And in order to turn an idea into a completed story, a writer has to take some time and think about things before they put fingers to keyboard. Things like their plot, their characters, the theme and what direction they want the story to go into. And the most important part of all, the conclusion of the story.

I can’t tell you how many story ideas I’ve had get scrapped all because I had no ending planned.

Take some advice from Shawn: It’s best to sit on a great idea so you can write a great story in a year or two than to race to the computer and write a really bad one in a couple of weeks.

Why should you sit on an idea? To see if it has some legs. To see if it’s a viable premise. To see if there’s a complete story to go with the idea.

If there’s a story to go with those ideas, it’ll come out.

I’ve sat on ideas for years. And when I finally got to write the story, the book was totally different from the original Idea I had.

Way back in 2003 I had the idea for a comedy about a Black man trying to get ahead it in corporate America.

The end result was a story about a Black woman trying to help her bakery secure a licensing deal with a Black-owned corporation called The Cassandra Cookbook.

Way back in 2005, I had the idea for a comedy story of a washed up actress who created a new identity for herself so she can live a normal life.

The end result was the drama All About Marilyn.

And ten years ago I had an Idea for an Isis story. When I finished putting fingers to the keyboard, a couple of days ago, the story I wrote was completely different from my original ideas in 2002.

Very rarely have I had an idea that I took straight to story. The only story I can think of that I took straight from concept to story virtually unchanged was The Temptation of John Haynes. And even then I sat on the idea for close to a year to build a structured story around the idea.

When a writer sits on an idea they give themselves time to develop a concept from the idea stage into a storyline that can work within a structure of a plot.

Now I’ve had ideas that I came up with that just didn’t work. Stuff that wound up getting scrapped at the outline stage. Some stuff that got a few chapters in. Some stuff I should have sat on a little while longer until I could come up with more solid and structured storyline.

So if you have that great idea you’re dying to get to the keyboard to write, sit on it for a while. You may wind up writing a better story than you originally planned.

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