Ask yourself if your interest in new concepts is based on their novelty. Fresh ideas can create an early burst of excitement, but before your project is through, you’ll have gone over your original idea so thoroughly it will feel old and played out.
If your story concepts revolve around a new world or place you’ve thought of, that’s a big sign novelty is involved. While spec fic writers create new worlds for many reasons, a common one is that the world we live in is too mundane for our tastes. But mundane really just means familiar, and your setting will be very familiar once you’re done with your story. Unless your world is meaningful to you at a deeper level, your engagement will probably fade.
If your interest wanes as soon as you know your ending, than the suspense of your plot is probably what pulled you that far. For many writers, that’s not enough. Even if you’re writing a thriller, your heavily revised story will be far less thrilling to you than to your readers.
The motivation to write a book must outshine the motivation you need to read one. It’s easy to accept new concepts because they would be fun as a reader. But to finish, your ideas must be attractive enough to you that you’re willing to spend not just days, but months or years on them.
After you discover what drives your initial excitement, you should be able to recognize it in your new concepts. Then you must acknowledge that it’s not enough, even while you still feel excited about it.
For many writers, the key to staying engaged is building a deep emotional connection with the stories they write. So as soon as you get excited about a new concept, find an emotional hook that will keep you engaged. Don’t waste two months describing every detail of your novel world, or you might lose interest before you build a deeper story around it.
The right emotional hook will be different for every writer, but start with these:
Invest in Your Hero
First, make sure you care about your main character. If you don’t, go back to the drawing board until you have someone you care about. If it helps, write about an alternate you, or an alternate loved one. As you develop your concept and get to know your hero better, you can nudge them away from the real person they’re based on.
Next, your hero should have a problem they must overcome during the course of the story. This problem should mean the world to them, and by extension, to you. Plan a character arc that makes you feel invested in taking that journey with them. You should want to experience their final victory with them, not just know that it’s ahead.
Some people become very invested in potential relationships. If you’re one of them, establish those budding romances or bromances early on. You might like star-crossed lovers, love-hate relationships, or sexy but unattainable vampires. Don’t worry yet if it’s cheesy, cliché, or even unhealthy. Just get the emotional hook in; you can refine it into something you’re proud of later.
Ideally, bringing your characters together will require them to learn and grow as people. Contrasting characters have more interesting interactions. And if they have a lesson or two to teach each other, their scenes together will help fuel their character arcs. That will, in turn, make your story more emotionally compelling.
Look for themes and messages that are relevant to your new concept. Instead of teaching your readers a moral lesson,* think of it as starting a discussion. Your story could find its emotional heart by delving into how people judge each other, the way we squander shared resources for personal gain, or how we’re brought together in times of trial. Your theme doesn’t need to be a life affirming message about the human condition though; what matters is that you are invested in exploring it.
Once you’ve picked a theme you find compelling, brainstorm how you might gently bring it out in your setting, characters, and plot. Don’t force it on them during the story – just set up your beginning so that theme-related conflicts are inevitable. Then let characters solve them in a way that feels natural.
Review Books You’ve Reread
If strengthening the characters, relationships, and themes isn’t enough to get you emotionally invested in your stories, it’s time to review the books that hooked you. While enjoying a book is not the same as writing one, it will give you some ideas. If there are any books you’ve read more than once in a short time span, focus on those. Did you enjoy them the second or third time? Why?
Find out what moves you, then go for it. Don’t let yourself get sidetracked with unimportant details during the honeymoon stage. Instead, use that energy to take your concept a step further. Then let your compelling idea pull you through the muddlesome middle, climatic ending, and the ten regrettable revisions after that, until you can declare victory over your published work.
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