Back at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 I mentioned I was working on a novel entitled The Palace Of The Red Desert. Right as I was about to start on it in earnest, I shelved it and pivoted very quickly to working on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (which is VERY close to having its first draft finished, time keeps on slippin' slippin' slippin'). The big reason I ditched out on Palace and moved to AONO was because I didn't have a story, but it took some time for me to nail down exactly why I didn't have a story. Turns out, on some reflection, it was because the story was about a sage, and the problem is that most sages are saintly bores. In other words, I didn't really lack for a story. I lacked for a character, without which there is no story.
I knew I was in real trouble when I realized the main character's friend, who is as easygoing and raffish as his friend is uptight and straightlaced, was probably the more interesting of the two. I toyed with the idea of making him the main character, perhaps also making him into the story's POV, but none of it stuck. In the end, I had to put the story back on the shelf — and the people along with it — and let them accrue possibility until they achieved some kind of critical mass.
This sort of thing actually happens a good deal more often than I let on. This just happened to be one of the more visible and urgent instances of it, because of how close I was to formally beginning work on it, and because of how I pulled out and switched projects so late in the game. Also because I'd started publicly documenting my discussions about the story, and normally I don't do that with something that is still under wraps.
Because AONO is so close to being first-draft-done, I went and peeked at the roster of possible future projects I keep freshened periodically with new blood and new thought. There must be a baker's dozen in there — maybe a butcher's dozen on top of that — but only a couple of them have really reached a point where they might achieve liftoff if I attached fuses to them and lit them up.
The toughest one of the bunch to relate to are the projects that are nothing more than just a feeling, or an abstract notion of an idea. One of those projects you usually introduce to yourself by way of a phrase along the lines of "I'd like to see something kind of like ..." and where the rest of the thought is just as insubstantial as the lead-in. My previous post about the "Faith No More book" was in that vein: an idea as immaterial as a nagging toothache, but just as persistent to the person experiencing it.
I don't really have a way to deal with such things except to take them out every so often, look them over, and see if there's anything of you in that moment that you can bring to such a thing that you didn't have the last time you mulled said project. Hence the importance of exposing yourself to both a broad and deep array of things; it raises the odds one such exposure will settle into you and end up revealing itself as the missing piece for a project that has for so long remained aggravatingly misshapen and incomplete.