When Your Story Gets Stuck (& Getting it Unstuck)

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

If you've been keeping track of my blog posts, you'll remember that I've been battling with an incredibly stuck and stubborn short story of mine. In case you forgot, here's one post I wrote about being in pursuit of conflict and another about finding treasure in your first draft. Both were inspired by a story of mine that wasn't moving forward. 

I didn't want to end the month of February without reaching a resolution in this story. I had been reading endless pieces of advice on how to jumpstart your story, improve your characters, and ratchet up your plotline. Last week, I thought my only option was really to just let the story go and come back to it a few months later. Yet, I didn't want to do that. I knew I would keep tinkering at it, even knowing I wasn't able to get it anywhere.

Until I came across advice that really struck a chord in me. Someone somewhere in this universe that I can't remember who suggested that you marry two stuck stories together. I'm famous for keeping half-finished pieces. Knowing that the missing piece (as told to me by many, many people) was that my character wasn't developed enough, I went in search of a character. It helped that I didn't even like my main character, to be honest. 

Many characters stepped forward for a lead role. I considered my character with the memory loss and mysterious past. That didn't feel right. Plus I'm pretty sure in the version of the future I was writing, this character would just run terrified. I considered a couple I wrote about once that was headed off to a dinner party, and how the wife was uncertain of her husband's work obsession. Well, that didn't feel right, either. 
Then I came across a very brief story I wrote once that had been left unfinished. This was during a time when I didn't like the work-woe plotline I kept featuring in my stories. (hey, we all need a go-to theme, right?). I actually really liked the character, but she didn't have a direction. 

The second I placed her in my stuck story, it completely transformed. All of a sudden, my story wasn't stuck anymore. She plays a slightly different part than my previous main character, but it works far better. A sign for me this is working is my revision process isn't changing the core of the story that much. I'm still in the midst of the revision process but things finally feel right. 

If you have a stuck story, my advice to you is the same advice I came across: marry two stuck stories together. Of course, it all depends on what isn't working in your story. It could be the plot, the character, the setting, or something else completely. Replace whatever isn't working with what is working in another story, and you might just see the transformation you've been looking for.


Angela Mackintosh said...

This is great advice, Nicole! Two years ago, I started writing an essay in a workshop, but then never finished it and set it aside. Recently, I was working on an essay and knew something was missing, until I realized that the essay I started in that workshop would be the KEY piece to my current essay. I inserted the section and it was the glue that held my theme together. Marrying them created a surprising harmony and clarity to the piece. It's interesting to see how a piece evolves when our minds stay curious about it, growing as we grow and experience life. I'm so glad you're not stuck anymore and your story is working!

Renee Roberson said...

My favorite line in this post is "Many characters stepped forward for a lead role." I cackled out loud at that visualization. What a brilliant idea to move a character from one story into one that you are polishing. Can't wait to hear how this turns out!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--What a brilliant idea. I love when an incredible realization comes crashing down on us. When characters step up and take over, our most powerful writing takes place. I'm with Renee--I can't wait to see the finished product.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I don't know about unfinished stories but I have characters from other stories that I LOVE and will pull again. Maybe make them taller, or with blonde hair. :-)

Just kidding! But I WILL perhaps age a character up if I really like the personality and use 'em again. Though if I'm being really honest, most of my characters are me, at some point in my life. Cleverly disguised, of course!

(I should probably branch out and use your idea, Nicole. Ha!)

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