Finding My Story

I have been trying to work on an outline for my new story, but I am having a lot of trouble nailing down the plot. This is probably due to the fact that I started this process with only an idea that I wanted to write in a particular genre, and not with an actual idea of a story. And so it shouldn’t be any wonder that now that I am working on the outline I can’t seem to nail down anything that seems worthy of writing.

Here’s the scoop. I decided that instead of working on editing my paranormal romance/urban fantasy novels, I would take a break from that whole world and write a mid-grade mystery story. I have no experience writing mysteries, and they aren’t something on my regular reading list. I also haven’t read a lot of mid-grade fiction recently, other than the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins, the same woman who wrote the Hunger Games. This puts me at a bit of a disadvantage while I am trying to figure out how to write this book.

When I think of mysteries for kids, the first books that spring to mind are the Alfred Hitchcock & the Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur. The series began in 1964, and I believe it was reissued in the 90s under the shortened moniker of the Three Investigators. Apparently it is still popular, or at least enough to spur the production of at least two recent movies based on the books. The main characters of the books are three young boys, with the brains of the outfit being Jupiter Jones. They kids work out of a trailer in the middle of a salvage yard, and they have all sorts of adventures that usually involve a supernatural element, kind of like Scooby Doo and the gang. And it is up to Jupiter Jones and his crew to solve the mystery and bring the criminals to justice.

There are also several other classic mystery series written for kids, like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and the Boxcar Children. I have recently picked up the first five books in the Boxcar series to use as an example for this effort. Of course, reading these books also gives me more ideas for alternative ways to write my own book.

And that, of course, is my main problem right now. It seems like every time I make some progress working out my plot, I have another idea for a different way to write it. I started thinking about writing the story with three or four main characters that are investigating a mystery, like with the Three Investigators books. Then I thought it would be cool to give the kids superpowers, because I like writing about the paranormal, and that sort of book seems to be pretty popular nowadays, even with younger kids. Then I started thinking about having a government conspiracy, or a secret lab, that was responsible for giving these kids their powers.

Then I got sidetracked and thought maybe it would be better to have one main character with the superpowers, but one of her powers was to trigger powers in others. I thought maybe she would be in a foster home because her parents disappeared years ago and are presumed dead, but she thinks they are still alive, and the mystery they have to solve is to find her family.

Then my thoughts took another turn and I started wondering about maybe having the kids meet in a summer camp. I haven’t gone very far along this track yet, but I thought that maybe it would be easier to write without offending anyone, because I don’t want to risk disrespecting the foster family programs. And I would also be easier to deal with their powers, as the camp could be responsible for giving them their powers, as well as training them how to use them. But the mystery angle would be more difficult to fit in.

The most recent distraction, as I said earlier, was to maybe have all the kids either orphans or runaways, and living in the wild like the Boxcar Children. The danger with going this route is that it may seem to reminiscent of the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, and the mystery plot would again be harder to fit into this kind of story.

All of these notions have their merit, and maybe what I need to do is figure out which parts of each idea would be best to keep, and which won’t work at all. Maybe I’ll end up with a group of kids on their own living in an abandoned summer camp while they search for their parents and developing powers from something that was left behind. Or maybe something completely different.

Do any of you have any advice?



Filed under The Writing Experience

2 responses to “Finding My Story

  1. Have you read the Pixar rules? (For that matter, did I get that link from you to begin with?) If not, check them out:

    I like the simplicity of #4. I’m also a big proponent of #14. But #17 strikes me as being particularly useful to your current predicament.

    It sounds like you’re still in the brainstorming phase — so run with it. Brainstorm away. Sketch out the basics of where these different ideas would take you. Sooner or later, one of them will grab you and you’ll know, “This is it.”

    Here’s another way to look at it. I just read an interview in a writing magazine (can’t remember which one or who the author was, don’t have the magazine with me right now — last time I saw it, my daughter had it, so I might not see it again for a while!). Anyway, his method may be useful to you too. The author was describing how he tracks his word counts and I found it interesting that he keeps TWO daily word counts. The first one, I think he called his “practice words” and the second one was essentially “the real thing.”

    Rather than thinking of an idea as being sidetracked, how about seeing it as brainstorming then spend some time with the idea and “practice” with it?

    All this “sidetracking” really does just sound like perfectly normal brainstorming though. I brainstormed dozens and dozens of scenes for the novel I’m working on, some of them going in completely opposite directions, some of them following completely different storylines, and maybe less than half of them are making it to the final cut. The half that didn’t are just “practice” scenes from when I was brainstorming where everything was going.

  2. You know what it sounds like to me (and brainstorming is certainly possible), but it feels like you might be getting sidetracked because you might not have a complete enough story idea in your head.

    Do you know beginning, middle and end of this story? I realize it sounds kind of elementary, but this is actually your synopsis at its very basic. Try to write out your beg, mid, and end in a synopsis that is no longer than 2 pages (this is important because limiting the number of pgs in your synopsis will help keep you focused and force you to write your end, lol).

    Once you have your end (and it doesn’t have to be detailed out, but you really should know the general event that closes the story), then it should be easier for you to begin writing your first draft. If you keep to your synopsis, then you won’t get sidetracked with impertinent ideas.

    Also, have you tried just taking 30 minutes or so every morning and just doing some creative dumping? Maybe try writing all that brainstormind stuff with no plan to use any of what you’re writing (in other words, getting all your ideas down on paper) and that in effect frees up your mind to work on the book and use ideas that are pertinent to the book.

    The great thing to your conundrum is that your imagination is very active and willing to reach outer limits. That’s a huge plus in storytelling, and not all writers have that gift. Good luck!

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