12 November 2009

Is Your Story Stuck?

You have a great idea for a story. You sit down at the keyboard and bang out a sentence, a paragraph, even a few pages, and then . . . nothing. You read what you've written and realize it sucks. Or you can't figure out what happens next. Or you can't figure out how to get to that great ending you thought of.

Sound familiar? Believe me, it happens to all of us. But here's a few strategies that have worked for me to "unstick" a story:

1. Add a character. While you don't want to populate a short story with to many characters, sometimes a story suffers with too few. Your protagonist might need a love interest, a nemesis, or even a side-kick. If you decide to go this way, make sure it's a well-rounded character. A cardboard character could just make the situation worse.

2. Figure out why you wrote what you wrote. Did something in what you've written already travel from your subconscious writer brain right to the keyboard without passing through your critical editor brain? Good! It is probably some of the best material that you have on the page. Now you just need to think about why it ended up there. If it takes your story in a new direction--go with it.

3. Set it aside. Let your subconscious writer brain work on the story overnight, or even for a few days. However, don't set it aside for more than a week or so, or your subconscious writer brain will give up and start working on something else.

4. Submit what you have so far to your critique group. Don't feel like everything you submit needs to be finished. Sometimes, just hearing others talk about your story will give you an idea. (Don't have a crit group? Get one--either on-line or in person. They are critical).

5. Look at POV. This can be tough, but ultimately rewarding. Try switching from first person to third person limited. Or vice versa. Alternatively, try telling the story from the POV of a different character in your story.

6. Bang it out. If all else fails, decide you are going to finish the story even if you think it sucks. Make sure you get to the end, even if you are not happy with it. You might surprise yourself when you go back and look at it. Or you may find yourself at a point where 1 through 5 might work for you. Remember that your critical internal editor is your enemy early in the creative process. Don't let him or her stop you!


keith graham said...

My favorite way to fix a stuck story is to ignore the part that has the problem.
I write the parts of the story that I like, the parts that originally inspired the story. Ignore the beginning, middle or end - write the parts that are easy to write.
Sometimes, when you finish with the good bits, you find the the other parts weren't even necessary. All you need to do is a few sentences to tie everything together.

LynnRush said...

Right on. I'm doing that with Nano right now. Pounding out the words and along the way I jot down (oh, that's not gonna work come back to this) and then later, during revisions, I'll hash out the details.

So, WRITE on, I say. :-)

Deb Smythe said...

Good strategies. Thanks.
Note to self: Evil Internal Editor is a slippery villan. Kill. Him. Now.

lesleylsmith said...

I'm glad Editor Dave's comments resonated with keith, Lynn, and Deb.
Dave, do you really do these steps? :)
Do they work for longer pieces like novels? :)

David E. Hughes said...

Yes, Keith's suggestion is another good one, so long as you don't get stuck in the trap of revising the same part over and over.

Lesley--I've done all of these steps on a story, but I've never put them together like this before. I assume they'd work on a novel, too.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I tend to solve this by not really starting stories until I know where they're headed. Yup. I'm one of THOSE people, the dreaded plotter.

That said, I plot pretty loosely so I have lots of room to maneuver. And of course I just broke my own rule today by starting a story without knowing exactly where it's headed. Sometimes a scene is so potent you just HAVE to get it down, right?