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How to Choose a Story to Write

This excerpt is from James Scott Bell's new book, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, 2nd Edition. For a limited time only, you can get the entire book for just $10!

self-editing book for writers

Which Story Should I Write?

The first editing question you need to ask is, Which story do I select to turn into a whole novel? To write from start to finish?

You’re going to be spending a long time with your novel. Months. A year. In some cases more. I don’t want you to wake up twelve weeks from now and chuck all that work.

So here are a few keys to self-editing in the story selection phase:

1. GET LOTS OF IDEAS. Th e key to creativity is to get lots and lots of ideas, ironically without any self-editing at all, then throw out the ones you don’t want.

It’s a little like how lawyers choose juries. In reality, they don’t select jurors; they deselect them. The potential jurors who are seated in the box are drawn randomly. Then, through a questioning process called voir dire, the lawyers probe and ponder, then exercise challenges. They try to get rid of those jurors they believe will not be favorably disposed to their case.

So, too, you as a writer face your box of ideas and, through probing and pondering, toss out the ones you won’t be writing about.

But first you gather, and as you do, let your imagination run free.

2. LOOK FOR THE BIG IDEA. A novel-length story has to have a certain size to it. Not length of words, but potential for a large canvas of emotions, incidents, and high stakes.

This is something you need to feel in your writer’s spirit. Think about the novels that moved you most. What was it about them that got to you? If it was an unforgettable character, what made her so? If it was a turning, twisting plot, what were the stakes?

If it was a quieter novel, it had some simmering intensity about it.

Think on these things as you look at ideas to nurture.

3. WRITE YOUR BACK COVER COPY. There are several questions to ask yourself about your idea, but at some point you need to see if it holds together, if you can get it in a form that both excites you and will excite publishers and readers.

One of the best ways to do this is to write your own back cover copy. That’s the marketing copy on the back of the book (or on the dust jacket) that’s intended to get readers to buy it.

When you do this, concentrate on the big picture. You’ll need to write and rewrite this several times, but doing so will serve you well for the entire writing project.

Buy the book now!

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