Solutions to Story Problems

This is always the hardest part of writing a story: you’ve got it all down, and it works… mostly. There’s something missing, and you can’t quite figure out what it is. Here’s my current process for getting through those “I just don’t know what to do to fix this story!” days.

  • What is this story about, at its very core? If the only answer to this is “talking animals are so cool, guys,” reconsider the importance of fixing this story.
  • Consider whether every character is necessary. Can one of them do double duty, perhaps carrying the burden of two characters in the story? Can one of the characters fix this story for me while I walk the dogs?
  • Make the protagonist’s problems a little bit worse. Is there anything that would make a scene more uncomfortable? Make conflict a little more intense? Can I put a countdown timer on the story somehow? Like maybe with a literal bomb? Or a literal bomb which has been swallowed by a hungry shark or something? I feel like this is getting closer to a solution.
  • Maybe it’s the story speed. Are there any scenes that can be cut or combined in order to speed up the action in the story? Consider the pros and cons of taking Adderall. What if I get hooked on it? What if I take it and write something great and then I can only write when I take Adderall? Where does a boring hermit lady get Adderall anyway? Do you just go up to a middle schooler and ask? Will I go to jail?
  • Submit to Clarkesworld to reinforce belief that I am never going to sell this story.
  • Analyze my first paragraph. Really agonize over word choice in first sentence. Restart Scrivener. Restart computer. Check Facebook. Fiddle with last sentence in first paragraph. Look at the clock. Consider taking a nap, or a bath.
  • Try turning all the characters into gastropods. There. Now it’s so weird nobody will notice if the emotional notes don’t quite work because they’ll be so busy trying to figure out how gastropods can drive a pick-up truck.
  • Add a lovable character to the story, like a baby monkey. Make the monkey really adorable. Find a gruesome way of killing the baby monkey. Now you have emotional resonance.
  • Consider changing the story to first-person to make everything feel more immediate. It’ll give me something to do besides worry, at least. It’s good to feel busy!
  • Write something else instead.
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