Ways to un-stick a stuck story

Posted on Friday, April 7th, 2017 at 13:30


  • Do an outline, whatever way works best.
    Get yourself out of the word soup and know where the story is headed.
  • Conflicts and obstacles. Hurt the protagonist, put things in their way, this keeps
    the story interesting. An easy journey makes the story boring and boring is
    hard to write.
  • Change the POV. Sometimes all it takes to untangle a knotted story is to look at
    it through different eyes, be it through the sidekick, the antagonist, a minor
    character, whatever.
  • Know the characters. You can’t write a story if the characters are strangers to you.
    Know their likes, dislikes, fears, and most importantly, their motivation. This makes the path clearer.
  • Fill in holes. Writing doesn’t have to be linear; you can always go back and fill in plotholes,
    and add content and context.
  • Have flashbacks, hallucinations, dream sequences or foreshadowing events. These
    stir the story up, deviations from the expected course add a feeling of urgency
    and uncertainty to the narrative.
  • Introduce a new mystery. If there’s something that just doesn’t add up, a big question mark, the story becomes more
    compelling. Beware: this can also cause you to sink further into the mire.
  • Take something from your protagonist. A weapon, asset, ally or loved one. Force
    him to operate without it, it can reinvigorate a stale story.
  • Twists and betrayal. Maybe someone isn’t who they say they are or the protagonist
    is betrayed by someone he thought he could trust. This can shake the story up
    and get it rolling again.
  • Secrets. If
    someone has a deep, dark secret that they’re forced to lie about, it’s a good
    way to stir up some fresh conflict. New lies to cover up the old ones, the
    secret being revealed, and all the resulting chaos.
  • Kill someone. Make a character death that is productive to the plot, but not “just because”. If done well, it affects
    all the characters, stirs up the story and gets it moving.
  • Ill-advised character actions. Tension is created when a character we love does
    something we hate. Identify the thing the readers don’t want to happen, then
    engineer it so it happens worse than they imagined.
  • Create cliff-hangers. Keep the readers’ attention by putting the characters into new problems and
    make them wait for you to write your way out of it. This challenge can really
    bring out your creativity.
  • Raise the stakes. Make the consequences of failure worse, make the journey harder.
    Suddenly the protagonist’s goal is more than he expected, or he has to make an
    important choice.
  • Make the hero active. You can’t always wait for external influences on the
    characters, sometimes you have to make the hero take actions himself. Not
    necessarily to be successful, but active
    and complicit in the narrative.
  • Different threat levels. Make the conflicts on a physical level (“I’m about to be
    killed by a demon”)
    , an emotional level (“But that demon was my true love”) and
    a philosophical level (“If I’m forced to kill my true love before they kill me,
    how can love ever succeed in the face of evil?”)
  • Figure out an ending. If you know where the story is going to end, it helps get
    the ball rolling towards that end, even if it’s not the same ending that you
    actually end up writing.
  • What if? What if the hero kills the antagonist now, gets captured, or goes insane? When
    you write down different questions like these, the answer to how to continue the
    story will present itself.
  • Start fresh or skip ahead. Delete the last five thousand words and try again. It’s
    terrifying at first, but frees you up for a fresh start to find a proper path. Or
    you can skip the part that’s putting you on edge – forget about that fidgety
    crap, you can do it later – and write the next scene. Whatever was in-between
    will come with time.

These are largely summed up by Chandler’s “have a guy burst in with a gun” . Plan your story, plan the conflict, knock those heroes down.