Saturday, October 16, 2010

Runaway Trains Part I

I've always thought new story ideas belong in three categories: ravenous mosquito, rose bouquet and runaway train.

Unfortunately the ideas I get most frequently are of the ravenous mosquito variety. Like the insect, this sort of idea is annoying, and there's not much to it, but it's hungry and persistent. This is why it circles your head and distracts you until you feel like swatting yourself with a baseball bat. Mine are forever whining What if...? The only good thing about them is that if you don't feed them anything eventually they do buzz off.

Rose bouquet ideas are much more substantial, and they show up on your mental doorstep like a polite gift from the muse. They're lovely and lyrical, and not pushy at all. Whether you accept them or not, they make you feel appreciated and loved. If you have to set them aside, they're also quite willing to bloom in silence until you're ready to admire and arrange them. Many of my old romances were rose bouquet ideas, and if you plant them regularly they eventually become a garden that is always sprouting new varieties (frankly I never get enough of these.)

Then there are the runaway train ideas. Nothing else is as huge and powerful as these monsters. When they show up, everything else stops. They are often packed with tons of story elements and info, and they are driven by an engine that sounds like it will go forever. When they hit you, they can wreck you for any other story, but if you decide to jump on and go along for the ride, the rush can be incredible.

No matter what sort of new story ideas you have, finding a method of dealing with them is important. Ideas are great, but they can also become such a frequent nuisance that you're never able to finish writing any stories. When you have to commit to a writing schedule (pros are forever under a deadline) it's especially imperative, because new ideas can actually interfere with and even derail your contracted work.

This is where I ran into some problems, because the weird thing about any type of story idea is that I never know how important it is or where it will take me. I've had runaway train ideas that dragged me off to go nowhere fast, and ravenous mosquito ideas that grew into big beautiful stories that seemed quite willing to write themselves. I always thought that after I wrote enough books I'd be able to predict in advance which ideas will work and avoid the ones that won't, but that hasn't happened yet. This also is why I'm also reluctant to banish anything to the void.

Up tomorrow: How I manage story ideas that allow them to develop and grow while I stay sane and on schedule, and what happens when a mosquito idea grows to be the size of a train.

Image credit: © Christian Lagereek. Fahraeus |


  1. I hate when you get a great idea that you have to get out right now!, and halfway through, it putters out and you realize, this isn't a very good story!... Great blog post.

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  2. Ugh, I'm with Amber--that happens to me all the time, and it stinks.

    A lot of my ideas tend to be what I call "ingredients." I hardly ever get a complete idea--I always have to wait, come up with more ideas, and find out what ideas go with what so I can mix them together and get an actual story idea instead of just snippets. When I do get a complete story idea, I'm ecstatic.

  3. Urgh, I hate when I get that mosquito story idea...the one that's, you know, GOOD. But not good enough. D:

    I love my train story ideas. :) They get me really going, and I feel so pumped about them! They usually are worthy in the end.


  4. For me, it never fails: Whenever I am knee deep in a story, another pops into my mind. For me, it's hard to put anything aside because that initial inspiration is so addictive. I can deal with the mozzies (mosquitos a'la Australian slang) just fine, but the roses are my weakness. As for the trains... Having finally jumped on one, it is pretty good defense against getting distracted by anything else.

  5. I love your advice and how open you are to share it.

    I'd say that in romance my garden usually rots, but there is still hope, as I am a gardener and I've seen my roses blossom for a season.

    Only sometimes when you glance at the runaway trains, you feel fear that maybe it is the wring train and you start waiting for another, but you still keep on writing and writing and writing, until you realise, that it's the right train, as you fall in love with the plot,l basically.

  6. LMAO. Runaway trains... I like that description.

    I had one a few months ago-first non-romance idea. It's an UF thing and it was literally eating my brain up, and I DON'T have time for it. But I juggled it in because it was just too distracting.

    I got to a stopping point-about halfway done and sent it to my agent, which allowed me to focus on my RS project and the other projects. I'm used to working on multiple things so that helps. But man, that one was killing me.