I accept the concept of a muse wholeheartedly. However old-fashioned it might be, it’s a theory I like. My muse, however, does not resemble a lovely Greek statue. My muse is more like a kaleidoscope of butterflies, constantly circling my head. Only these delicate beauties carry ten pound cannonballs, which they like to release on me at random times.
Me: *trying to get to sleep*
My muse: WHAM!! *drops cannonball*
My muse: This would make a good story.
Me *buries head in pillow*: “What? Why would you do that?”
My muse: IDEAS. HAVE SOME.
Me: But that has nothing to do with the story I’m already—
My muse: SHHHHHH. IDEAS.
It’s not a problem I can really complain about, after all, I need that inspiration in order to write anything. It is a problem that needs dealing with, though. Not every idea hitting me is a good one. Out of the good ones, not every idea will be enough to propel a full length story.
So how do I figure out the difference?
While researching how to write a query letter, I came across an article about the virtue of writing a rough query before you start writing the actual story. I’ve been trying it for the last year. To my mild surprise, it works really well. Now it’s my threshold test for ideas, the test that helps me decide whether or not to spend the time on this story.
When one of those random ideas lands on me and won’t go away, I sit down and try to write out a query letter for it. Now the idea has to prove itself, to go any farther with me.
How exciting is this premise? When I’m jazzing it up to make it sound agent-enticing, what kind of jazz does it really have? What’s the inciting incident that sets the whole thing in motion? Since it’s a query, I figure out the main characters, the stakes, and the consequences. Sometimes the genre even explains itself while I’m doing this.
At the end of it I have a pretty solid way to look at the story objectively and say, yes, this will make a good book. There are good enough stakes, with actual consequences, and tension to drive the plot.
Alternatively, I write the query and say, nope. These stakes don’t really have any consequences. The main goal isn’t very clear. There is a big danger of saggy middle here. And this will not make enough of a plot to be a story. Then the idea, which my muse so helpfully banged down in the middle of my shower time, can get filed away in the “reject” folder.
Pros for writing the query first:
Excellent for pantsers. It’s a fairly painless way to write a rough outline without worrying about detailed Goal/Motivation/Conflict charts and other icky things.
Saves you writing time. If the story won’t work, you find out before you’re 20K words in.
Saves you query time. When you sit down to write your real query or blurb, it’s already half done.
Main characters, goal, and stakes are already worked out (even if you decide to tweak them as you go) and therefore easy to keep in mind as you write.
Inciting incident becomes clearer, because that’s what you usually lead a query off with.
The satisfaction of giving the muse a metaphorical middle finger when you stick the idea in the reject pile.
Takes away writing time from other projects as you sit down to figure this all out.
Not as excellent for dedicated plotters. It makes for a VERY rough outline.
Main characters, goal, and stakes might all change as you write the actual book.
How about you? Do you already put your stories through a similar test? Could you use this technique, or do you have one of your own? I’d love to hear about it!
Interested in joining in the Author Toolbox blog hop? Or just finding more articles to add to your bag of tricks? Head here to the website of author Raimey Gallant on the third Wednesday every month (except Nov./Dec. ’cause holidays, y’all).