This is a question that probably gets answered a hundred different ways, so let me start out by saying that I’m talking mostly about my own stories. I’d wager a lot of other authors are similar, maybe most even, but I’d also bet many are different, too, and that’s great. But I tend to have a pretty specific flow of ideas, one that is more or less the same every time.
Not surprisingly, I start with an idea.
Now, I write quickly, usually at least, but that doesn’t mean I put my story thoughts together in short order. Quite the opposite, in fact. I have lots of narrative elements floating around in my head all the time, and while I can usually write pretty quickly, I can’t produce that much. So, what makes a story idea develop into something more…and ultimately an actual novel, or more likely, a series of novels?
Well, first, there is time. As I mentioned, I can put out 5 or 6 books a year, usually, but the actual storylines, or at least the general outlines, have probably been floating around in my head for years. Yes, that’s right…years. I haven’t sat down and written anything I haven’t been thinking about for at least 12 months, and often for much, much longer. That doesn’t mean I’ve figured everything out, but it does give me at least a basic starting point, and quite possibly one that’s changed an awful lot over that year (or two or three or more) that it’s existed. The truth is, a finished novel is usually quite different from the original idea I’d jotted down.
Second, I have to consider how something works once I start trying to take it from a basic starting point to a finished novel.
The dirty truth is, sometimes I’ll start something new, and I’ll find it very difficult to proceed at a given time, while other books will go far more easily. It’s a hard thing to understand, at least from time to time, as some things I thought would be easy prove to be difficult…or the reverse. It’s hard to determine what will go easily, and what will give me a hard time until I’m actually trying to work through them…which is why I have three or four started series that have ten thousand or twenty thousand written words, but ended up being abandoned, at least for a while.
Third, fan reactions are always crucial.
I’m fortunate that I don’t need everything to be at the peak sales level all the time, but I’d be lying if I said that reader reactions weren’t important. If I’ve got two things going on, and one has twice the fanbase of the other, I’ll definitely show some preference to the stronger series. That doesn’t mean I won’t write the lesser work, I absolutely will, but it does mean I will probably write a number of the more popular ones first…almost certainly to the disclaim of at least a few old stalwarts who want to see the lesser book sooner.
Lastly, and strangely both good and bad, there’s my own reaction to each story.
I’d like to say these are always good, but the truth is, sometimes one storyline is just better than another at pulling itself out of me and coming together, while a different one seems to get hung up on this and that. It’s not always that one is demonstrably better than another in some definitive way, but often one is just easier to work my way through at a given time. With luck, maybe the other one will open up over time, and be “ready” to actually launch in a year…or a couple years. The truth is, I’ve still got story ideas that date back to before I published my first book, and some of these have just proven to be more difficult to write.
Am I going to run out of story ideas? Nope, not in my lifetime at least.
It’s one of the questions I get asked the most, and one at least, to which I can give a satisfying answer. I can’t say for sure my stories will remain interesting, or I will retain the same audience size (or even increase it), but I can say for certain that I’ve already got more ideas than I can write, especially since most of them are for series and not individual books. That’s the first step…and assuming they’re mostly decent ideas, probably the most difficult one as well.
I’ve done okay so far, and with any luck, I’ll continue to pick and write good books. Maybe my sales will even go up, and not just stay the same!