As writers, we know that ideas come to us from everywhere and everything. And we also know that not only are ideas just the starting point of creating a story, not all ideas will actually work. Sometimes it’s a matter of not being able to come up with characters that feel real for us, or the topic requires a lot of research that we just aren’t up to right now, or maybe it’s a bad time to be attempting the project for a variety of personal reasons.
Or maybe we simply are too busy having tea and scones with jam and clotted cream to write any of these brilliant notions. I wish.
At the moment, I’m working on a 6-part contemporary fantasy series, but it’s far from the only storyline that’s run through my head (on steroids, because, you know, autism). Here are some other plot/character concepts that have haunted my dreams and my waking hours, but that I may never finish writing out.
A young woman emigrates from her native Scotland (Ireland?) to Industrial Revolution America and ends up in the Wild West. I imagined she’d be a governess for a family leaving the East Coast for a business venture in Spanish California. (Do not ask me why. This is just how it showed up in my mind.) The twist would come when they ran into trouble while traveling (their train breaks down, they get attacked by Native Americans kicked off their land?), and somehow she’d get separated from her employers and wind up with a group of failed cowboys who were going to try their hand at being pirates. Yes, yes, I know, that’s a whole lot of mashing up going on. This was precisely why the idea faded away. In doing a little initial research, I discovered that the Golden Age of Piracy was over by the early 1800s, and none of that happened around Spanish California, and so if I really wanted to set the story closer to the 1870s, then I either had to create an alternate history (like America was still a British colony or something), or go steampunk or something. I don’t even understand steampunk when I attempt to read it; so writing it is a task that remains in my alternate history, it seems.
Before slavery was abolished in America, a wealthy Caucasian girl falls in love with her family’s “negro” servant. I debated when to set this one, too — shortly before the American Revolution, or before the U.S. Civil War. Both periods included a lot of discussion on slavery, since the first led to which states were “slave” or “free,” and obviously the closer the country came to splitting, the more prominent the issue was. It’s a very important (not nice, but important) part of history for all of us to know and remember. Here’s why I didn’t pursue it further. I’ve read a fair amount of historical fiction, but writing it is another beast entirely. And I have a very difficult time writing romantic relationships (from a non-autistic point of view). So I decided a few years ago to give up even trying to pen romances.
The stage manager of a ballet company is murdered, and some of the dancers are suspects. No real surprise that my love of dance brought me to this topic. I had it all figured out, too — why the suspects would be suspicious, who the culprit was, the motive, was the act planned or spur of the moment, and how the killer covered it up. But, I just don’t do murder mysteries. They tend to follow a formula that I find tedious and bland — and that many fans are used to, and probably enjoy. And I don’t care to muck about with that.
A dystopian involving a girl uncovering an alien plot to invade Earth. Okay, yes, it has been done. But when should that ever stop any writer from trying to put their own spin on a familiar tale? And I had in mind the less-done plan of the protagonist at first agreeing to help the aliens, so that she could later run to the human military and be a double agent. (This whole concept was based on a dream I had, and it made more sense when I was barely conscious in the middle of the night.) However, dystopias and sci-fi are not my thing for sustained periods of time. For example, how long it would take to write an entire novel (or even novella) in this genre/sub-genre. Hence, I abandoned it. (I did pay homage to it in one of my short stories, though.)
Fellow writers — what are some of your unfinished story ideas? Let me know in the comments, and we can discuss and ponder and savor the scones.