1. zslane
    Offline

    zslane New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2015
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Los Angeles

    No stories to tell

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by zslane, Feb 26, 2015.

    Writers are storytellers. So what to do if you love a number of literary genres and enjoy the act of putting words down on a page, but have no stories to tell?

    For a lot of writers, stories just spring from their imaginations unbidden and scream to be told. The problem for them is how to organize all the ideas struggling for primacy, and then how to use language to best effect to get the story across to readers. But for those of us who don't have stories pouring out us, what methods are available for getting our imaginations to generate them?

    When I was in film school, I recall a professor who taught screenwriting. In the very first lecture he introduced us to a series of critical questions we, as aspiring screenwriters, should ask ourselves before spending too much time and effort on any particular project. One of those questions was: Do you love the story you are telling?

    This is important because screenwriters will spend a lot of time with their screenplays. Not just while writing them, but afterwards when it comes time to shop them around and try to get them produced. They'll be spending years intimately locked in creative battle with a script, so they had better really, really, really love their stories. The same can be said, I think, for novels.

    And therein lies the rub. I have yet to meet a story idea (of my own creation) that I liked enough to spend a week working on, much less a month, a year, or many years. I lose interest in my story ideas very quickly. Which suggests to me that I just don't have any stories worth telling--after all, if they don't grab me how can I expect them to grab anyone else?

    Does anyone else have this problem? Or is having stories to tell such a fundamental prerequisite that even the question ("How to be a writer when you have nothing to say?") is completely non-sensical?
     
    The Next Big Thing likes this.
  2. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,723
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    I often start with no story idea at all. I just have a flash of a character in my mind. I don't really know, sometimes, who he is; he's just a snapshot. I start by writing a little scene about him - give him a name, maybe a bit of backstory that comes to me as I write, maybe a destination (I usually start with my character going somewhere, even if I don't know where that is until I get to that paragraph in the scene). The act of writing generates ideas for me. For the life of me, I can't just come up with something as I mow the lawn or take a shower. Those activities don't generate ideas. Actually writing - the act of putting words together into sentences, arranging them into paragraphs, and setting them on paper - generates ideas.

    Once I have a scene or two or three about my character, some kind of imaginative critical mass is reached and a story starts to form in my head. Writing about the character has already made me emotionally invested in him, so I'm already emotionally invested in the story that's emerging. I already love it.

    I'm off to the races from there.

    Good luck! :)
     
  3. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,336
    Likes Received:
    3,084
    If you love putting words down onto a page, you're in a better position than most people with just "an idea." Go ahead and write non fiction if you want. You want to write, right? Write for the sake of writing.
     
    Ivana likes this.
  4. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    Write about a writer who has no stories to tell.
     
  5. idle
    Offline

    idle Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2012
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    one of the hearts of Europe
    Maybe it isn't that you don't have any stories to tell, maybe you just need to find a way to like them.

    I too lose interest in my stories, if I don't finish them in a few days. But it isn't the same as having nothing. I know the stories could be good, if I gave them the effort they needed. I just need to work up my interest in them again. I won't tell you how to do it, I have no idea. But it must be possible.

    Oh no, that's been done to death.
     
  6. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    OK, write about a writer who has no stories to tell but doesn't know how to proceed because it's been done to death.

    (You can probably guess why I don't get a lot of writing done.)
     
  7. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,208
    Likes Received:
    4,217
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Well, maybe the ideas you have just doesn't appeal to you right now. My tip is to just write it all down somewhere because for all you know, years from now you might actually get excited by a few of them.
     
  8. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,723
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    Don't write about writers. It's so "poor, poor, pitiful me" and besides, most people don't relate to it.

    How about a farmer who has run out of crops to grow? Or a university professor who has nothing left to teach? Or a chef with a restaurant full of customers but no recipes? An astronaut without a rocket? A bullfighter without a bull? A becalmed sailor? A firefighter in Asbestosland? The Maytag repairman?

    Clearly, I'm bored and this is pretty silly. :D
     
  9. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,208
    Likes Received:
    4,217
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Or an inspector squirrel with no case to solve? ;) :p
     
  10. Dunning Kruger
    Offline

    Dunning Kruger Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2014
    Messages:
    205
    Likes Received:
    128
    What do you love in life or find absolutely fascinating? Or what do you hate in life - what makes you mad as hell and your going to write about it? Find the story that exists within whatever gets you energized.
     
  11. tonguetied
    Offline

    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 23, 2014
    Messages:
    547
    Likes Received:
    219
    Location:
    Near Atlanta
    Maybe you should just start with a very short story that you can complete before you tire of it. Doing a novel is a huge challenge in my opinion, even a short story seems quite difficult but at least I don't get tired of it as easily.
     
    idle and minstrel like this.
  12. Bryan Romer
    Offline

    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2014
    Messages:
    891
    Likes Received:
    381
    Writing a novel is a strange combination of inspiration and dogged determination. For many, that first novel is more of a rush, a flowering of dammed up creativity finally set free. But the second and third etc. novels become more of an exercise in craftsmanship.

    You select the best material you can, in this case a story idea, and then you just work at it with all the tools and skill at your disposal until the finished product sits before you. In truth, it is hard work, made bearable only by the satisfaction any craftsman (or woman) feels when creating a work of art. Too many would be writers expect the initial heady rush to sustain them all the way to the end, and this rarely happens.

    I suspect it is a bit like a marriage or a business partnership.
     
    plothog and Shadowfax like this.
  13. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    The OP is a perfect description of me a few years ago. I eventually decided I had better things to do with my time than creative writing.

    It was only after I gave up the notion of "I want to write... but what should I write about?" that my mind started to clear up. One day, after finishing reading a book, I was pondering why I loved it so much despite all its flaws. After that thought process, I could more easily explain to myself what it accomplished, and what else it could have accomplished. Then I thought: why not write my own book that is everything that book could have been?

    You know the feeling where you stare at a problem incessantly, give up, go to sleep, forget about it for a few days, go back to it, and recognize the solution within a few minutes? And you wonder how it did not occur to you so easily when you were staring at it? That is exactly like the feeling of going from agonizing over finding the "perfect idea", to giving up on creative writing, to suddenly realizing there is a story waiting to be written.

    So maybe what you should do is set aside your ambition and occupy your mind with something else. And not just to pass the time, but because you genuinely enjoy doing what you do. Find meaning in life without writing. (No one should have only one passion or one hobby.) In the meantime, read voraciously, for pure pleasure, not under the pretense of personal enrichment. Keep asking yourself "what does this accomplish as a work of fiction?" Make lists of your favorite works of fiction under various categories and think hard about why you like some better than others.
     
    The Next Big Thing and Ivana like this.
  14. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,336
    Likes Received:
    3,084
    I never understood this reasoning. Writing isn't just about the inspiration. People don't get inspired and suddenly they're an expert writer. It takes years of practice (at least for most people) even just to be decent. If you want to write, you should write.
     
  15. idle
    Offline

    idle Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2012
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    one of the hearts of Europe
    No, inspiration doesn't make you an expert writer. Inspiration is what drives you to work on becoming one.
     
  16. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,336
    Likes Received:
    3,084
    Some people do things just for the love of the act itself.
     
  17. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    This is true and it does not contradict what I said.

    Maybe I should clarify: when I say "find meaning in life without writing" and "set aside your ambition", I do not mean stop writing altogether. Just stop trying to write the next great novel. If you want to practice, then practice. But do so without the expectation that anyone else will read what you write, without pressuring yourself to produce something you will be proud of, without committing to a long-term project.

    Save the ambition and the "blood, sweat, and tears" for later, because, at least in my case, the only way to get inspired is to stop trying to get inspired.
     
    123456789 likes this.
  18. idle
    Offline

    idle Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2012
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    one of the hearts of Europe
    Yeah, some. I thought we were trying to help someone who struggles with this part.
     
  19. zslane
    Offline

    zslane New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2015
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I must confess that I don't really have any big ambition to be a writer. It just seems like fun, and when I'm typing away at some fractionally-formed idea it often is. It's just that my initial enthusiasm and interest usually fades quickly as the idea (the scene, the premise, the notion, whatever) plays itself out and ends with nowhere particularly interesting (to me) to go.

    I don't see myself as a tortured artist looking to write the perfect anything. I'd settle for finding a setting, cast of characters, and plot that I like enough to tell a fully-formed tale with a dramatically satisfying beginning, middle, and end. My perpetual inability to do that leads me to question my potential as a storyteller period. A reasonable mirror to hold up to oneself, I think.

    One methodology I am sort of good at--in other creative endeavors--is the mash-up. Taking interesting ideas from multiple sources and mixing them up to form a new thing. Maybe that's where I should start. Thinking about stories I loved and then pulling out the bits and pieces I loved about them and mashing them together into something new and vaguely my own.

    And maybe along the way, it will form itself into something epic. And maybe not.
     
  20. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    It is perfectly normal to be a dabbler. That feeling of thinking of a somewhat interesting concept, developing it a bit, and then suddenly losing interest, is very relatable. To be honest, we lose interest in these concepts not because we find flaws in them, but because we have already satiated our desire to dabble in concepts.

    A fully-formed tale with a dramatically satisfying beginning, middle, and end, is an ambitious project whichever way you look at it, whether or not you have big ambitions to become a writer. It is what happens when you stop dabbling, just pick a concept, and commit to it.

    Everything is a mash-up, really. That is why I recommend observing so many works of fiction and thinking about what each one accomplishes and what it could have accomplished. Take all that missed potential and mash it all up into something that meets the potential. The thing is, these mash-ups are likelier to be the organic result of observing fiction for pure pleasure than to be the result of deliberately trying to create something.

    Continue to entertain concepts as they come to you, and shelve them when they no longer interest you. Motivation is likelier to come when you are observing a work of fiction or when you are free writing and you suddenly draw a connection to a concept you once shelved, than when you are staring at a concept trying to develop it further.
     
  21. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,504
    Likes Received:
    1,337
    It's been said before that there are no more stories left to tell, that every story is a variant on something else. There's a thread on this forum about Rowing and King, where Harry Potter was compared with Jesus Christ, King Arthur and (I think) Bilbo Baggins...insofar as there are similarities in character and general story arc.

    So, doing a "mash-up" is what ALL authors do.

    It's what all ARTISTS do, in whatever field.

    One of my short stories was inspired by "Sister of the Moon" by Fleetwood Mac, with additional input from the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat.

    Take your cultural inputs, and make your own film of it.
     
  22. FabulousJewels
    Offline

    FabulousJewels Member

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2015
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    10
    Not to worry. Even if your mind is a blank slate, your friends can give you ideas.

    Me, I have a friend I enjoy working with--on a strictly professional level, of course. And he is a source of inspiration. He helps me think of things I would never come up with on my own. The last story he inspired me to write was about a girl who was trying to make it to her sister's wedding when her car broke down. I never finished that story, unfortunately. But every time I think of it and how it might have ended, I think of him. And this song will forever remind me of him.

     
  23. ChaosReigns
    Offline

    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2013
    Messages:
    1,090
    Likes Received:
    455
    Location:
    Canterbury, Kent, United Kingdom
    OP,

    I know the pain that you go through, not all novels write themselves. I have bore witness to both sides of the fence, the notion of a story coming out and being able to be told right away is a rare one for sure, you will find it at some point. i'm running with one such idea currently.

    as for the lack of inspiration/patience to carry on an idea, think of it as a wall, pull down what you have already and rebuild it brick by brick, each brick is one small aspect of the story, a character, a plot point, a scene, plan. i know its rich for a pantser (someone who flys by the seat of their pants) to say to plan, but yes, even we need to plan sometimes.

    For instance, i have an idea, but there is absolutely and categorically no way i could write it without a plan, it is just too huge to be doing that with.

    if you still lack the inspiration, coffee shops, train journeys and other such places/moments are perfect for listening in to conversations and people watching, you might just find someone/overhear something that you think, yes! that would work.

    i hope my ramblings help you!
     
    minstrel likes this.
  24. FabulousJewels
    Offline

    FabulousJewels Member

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2015
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    10
    I'm right here, 'cause I need
    Little love and little sympathy
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2015
  25. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    I would rather ask yourself: why doesn't this story grab me? Figure that out, which might help you in figuring out what would grab you.

    Think of the many books and movies you've loved and reread/rewatched hundreds of times and still not got bored - why is that? What did they have that absolutely grabbed you?

    What's important to you in life? Are there any issues or themes that resonate with you?

    For me to fall in love even with my own stories, I generally have to fall in love with my characters. So it's not so much the story that's important, but whose story I'm trying to tell. Who it is I'm spending all my time with when I'm writing.
     
    Link the Writer likes this.

Share This Page