How to Save a Stalled Story

This is a bit of a cheeky re-post from one of my own blogs. This comes to us from Fantasy Wordsmiths, an old experiment of mine which actually featured a couple of useful posts. I’ll leave you to it, this advice is really worth reading.

It’s happened to all of us. You get a story all planned out, you create the world, the characters, the set-pieces and you storm through the first few chapters. ‘Excellent,’ you say, ‘this is really going somewhere!’ But then it happens…

You lose momentum. You struggle to churn out a meagre 100 words. In essence, you stall.

Then what do you do? You start writing something else. Whoa, hold on! That’s the last thing you want to be doing. I should know, I’ve done it more times than I can count on an octopus’ tentacles.

I want you all to be honest. The first step to breaking this nasty cycle is admitting that you do it.

The second thing you need to do once you’ve acknowledged your habit is to go back to that story that you now struggle with and find out where it went wrong. You may think you don’t need to do this, but trust me, you really do. Just run through this checklist and make sure that your story has all of these things:

  1. A clear theme (e.g. betrayal, the human spirit, love, the colour red)
  2. At least a simple plan for a beginning, middle and end
  3. At least one central character who is interesting to read about and proactive
  4. A conflict that makes people (and you) care about the outcome
  5. A change/progression in your main characters

If you feel that your story is missing any of the above elements, go back and fix it.

If none of those things were missing, then there might be an even simpler solution: swap something around. This can often make all the difference. Here’s an example:

Hero A is honest, charming and kind. Villain B is selfish, impulsive and brooding.

Now, if we change things around a little, things become a touch more interesting:

Hero A is brooding and impulsive but also kind. Villain B is honest and charming but also selfish.

Immediately, we’ve blurred the lines between what’s “good” and what’s not and made the characters much more interesting to read about and write about. The same trick can be applied to literally any set of characters. Try swapping around the personalities/roles of Princess Leia and Han Solo from Star Wars and you can already see an example of what can be achieved.

So, next time your story starts to flounder and you feel yourself throwing in the towel, give the techniques above a go and play around with what you already have. Remember, a completed story that’s poorly written is better than a fantastically-written half-finished story. Go have fun and enjoy it!

Enjoyed this post? Why not join the discussion in the comments below? Go on, it’s sure to be epic!


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