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Does your story have legs?

When your mind is filled with multiple new characters, settings and plots, what should you write first?



I expect that you are always coming up with new ideas. Maybe you think the old cinema you love would make an excellent setting for a murder mystery or your favourite art gallery would be a surefire backdrop for a romantic comedy. Maybe you've earmarked the grumpy woman at the dry cleaners to be a protagonist's bullying boss or your handsome vet to be a romantic hero for your unlucky-in-love heroine.


If you’re more drawn to non-fiction perhaps you've started thinking that your school years would make an interesting memoir or that the lessons you’ve learned in therapy would work as an empowering self-help guide. Maybe you're itching to write a travelogue on your cycle ride around the UK or a book about parenting teenagers now yours have happily headed off to university.


Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, chances are new ideas pop into your head frequently. (Write them all down! That brilliant idea that comes to you in the middle of the night will not be in your head when you wake again at 8am. Trust me.) Unfortunately (and realistically), there isn’t time to write all of them. So which of your myriad brilliant ideas should you choose to write next?


Firstly, I would ask myself which one seems the most fun to write and which characters I’d most like to spend time with. Do I really want to do months of historical research or investigate the US legal system? Do I need to set my story in the world of politics or could I transport those intriguing characters to an artists' colony instead? Would that be more fun to write? Would I be more likely to reach The End? I'd also ask myself to be realistic about the amount of time I have. Is there time for a three-part family saga that takes place over two centuries or should I begin with the idea I have for a small and practical book on parenting tips?


Once all these practical questions have been asked, there might be one idea that stands out. If there are still several options, I think that choosing what to write comes down to one thing: an idea that simply won’t go away.


I suggest taking an idea with you on a long run or walk. Think about it as you go and allow your mind to plot possible endings and conclusions. At the end of your exertions, is this idea still exciting? More importantly, does it work? Are you hurrying home to write down all those fabulous twists and turns that came rushing into your head as you cajoled the dogs up one more hill? Or it it one to place in a drawer for another time?


Similarly, take a story idea out for drinks and introduce it to your friend (a patient friend who loves books and is great at listening ). The drinks are on you as you tell your friend about this new idea, and encourage them to ask you questions, to poke holes in your plot and characters. Are they excited by your story? After dissecting it over a bottle of wine like this, are you?


Sit on the train with your book idea and see if it still tugs at you as you pull into your station. Take it to the park on a lunch break and focus all your attention on that thriller or romance or comedy and see if by the time you get back to work, it’s still something you can’t stop thinking about.


There are so many ideas, but the ones that don’t disappear under scrutiny are the ones worth writing first. Who are these amazing characters that are starting to have a life of their own? The settings that keep appearing in your mind? The plot twists and turns that become ever more complex and thrilling? The ideas that wake you up in the middle of the night?


These are the books you need to write now.

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