Our stories are often plagued with these common story problems, but if we don’t know how to fix them, we’ll never improve our writing. It’s important that you remember you don’t need to scrap your novel if you keep having the same issues over and over again. Hopefully this list will help you pinpoint what’s going on and provide ways for you to improve your novel.
Problem: Unmotivated Characters
If you’re having trouble figuring out where your story should go next, the problem could be with unmotivated characters. Characters aren’t in your novel just so you can push them around every once in a while and make them do things. They need to develop over time and keep your story going in the right direction.
Work on your character’s wants, goals, and motivations. You need to figure out what’s driving your character if you want them to do anything. Where do they want to end up? What’s standing in their way? What’s their plan? Who will help them? Think about everything your character will need to do to resolve your novel. Focus on what they want and what motivates their actions and your characters will stop being dull and lifeless.
Problem: Boring First Chapters
A boring first chapter is dangerous because you want to captivate your audience right away. You don’t want to lose readers just because of this, but sometimes it happens. You should give enough information to keep your readers interested, while also keeping them intrigued enough to figure out what happens next.
Putting emotion into your scenes from the beginning will not only help set the tone, but we’ll get an immediate understanding of your world. The best advice I can give is to construct a scene that helps us best understand your character. If they’re on the run, show us that they’re being chased. If they’re sad and lonely, construct a scene that lets us feel their isolation. You don’t necessarily need to open your book with action, but you do need to introduce the conflict. Think about what your character wants and go from there. Think of your first chapter as an introduction to an essay. You don’t go right into the points immediately, but you set us up for something good.
Problem: Plot Holes
Writers worry about forgetting to include important information in their novel that’s necessary to the plot. If you’re discovering that readers often point out plot holes in your story, maybe it’s time to reevaluate how you plan your novel.
Pre-planning or prewriting your novel often solves any plot hole problems. If you take the time to write out important scenes so you don’t forget them, your story will become stronger. However, if you’re not someone who likes to do so much planning, you can tackle plot holes during the editing phase. Take notes when you’re editing so that you can catch these plot holes and figure out where you can add necessary information. A plot hole does not always mean your novel needs loads of reworking, but it is something you need to take the time to fill in.
Problem: Poor Pacing
Poor pacing can ruin a novel, but luckily it’s something you can tackle head on before you even start writing your story. Good pacing helps add tension to your novel and helps you make sure there’s enough rising and falling action to keep your story interesting.
Planning out your novel ahead of time also helps solve pacing problems. You can create a timeline that helps you keep track and plan out when you want certain things to happen. Read up on story arcs and try to plan out your scenes accordingly. If you’re already done with your novel and you notice poor pacing, try rearranging scenes or spreading out the action.
A very common writing problem is info-dumping. This is when you tell your readers loads of information at a time without showing them anything important. Info-dumps usually occur in first chapters of novels, but they can happen anytime during the course of your story. Info- dumps can drag down your story and bore your readers.
Cut out long paragraphs where you explain what’s going on in your novel and show your readers instead. Avoid over explaining things that can be explained through action. Letting your audience figure things out instead is a much more satisfying reading experience and it lets your readers connect with your characters on a deeper level.
Your character learns something that they’d rather not have known about their friend.
Tips by Alicia Rasley
Originally Posted on AliciaRasley.com
Problem #10: Backstory Blunders
The past is prologue, for sure, but you can tell too much too soon dragging your plot down, if everything about the characters’ past is explained right upfront in Chapter One.
Problem # 9: Boring Beginnings
If you have to rely on your readers’ patience while you get the story set up, you’re likely to lose most of them.
Start where the protagonist’s problem starts, or just before that, and feed in the backstory later. This is the MTV era– people don’t like to wait.
Be especially wary of books that start with the protagonist on a journey, thinking about what awaits her at the destination. Editors frequently mention that as an example of a boring opening. It helps to decide what your major story questions are and make sure those are posed in the first few chapters– at least one should be posed in Chapter One.
Problem #8: Limping to a Conclusion
You don’t want the reader to think you ended the book just because you ran out of paper. Make the ending a conclusive one, reinforcing the themes of the book and the progress of the protagonist. (Click here for more discussion of this topic.)
Problem # 7: Sagging Middle
The middle has to do more than just fill up the space between beginning and end. It should be a time of “rising conflict” where the protagonist is tested up to (and perhaps beyond) the limits of his ability– a time to develop the internal and external conflicts and show how they influence the protagonist’s actions. It should set up the great crisis/climax/resolution that will bring the novel to a close.
So when you’re starting the middle, think of how the protagonist can be challenged. What external plot events can make his internal conflict impossible to ignore any longer? How can that internal conflict impede his/her progress towards the goal? If there’s an antagonist, how does the antagonist’s reaction affect the protagonist’s progress?
by Anne Marble
Description is something that gets in the way of many authors. Why? Well, because it’s so darn hard to write. And no wonder. If you’re not careful, descriptive sequences can become static, even dull. Writing action and dialogue is so much more fun. On top of that, description incorporates so many elements. It doesn’t just cover describing the setting — it also involves descriptions of the characters’ clothes and appearance, the “props” your characters use, the weather, and so forth.
If you’re not very accomplished at writing description, then sometimes you might want to avoid writing it. But then, you can wind up with stories where people wander vague hallways or buildings, and readers don’t get a sense of time or place from your story. A story without enough description is missing something. People who read a story that’s lacking in description might ask “Where does this take place? Are there buildings around them?” I must admit that often happens when people look at my early drafts.
At the same time, some writers err in the other direction, including too much description. They fall in love with their setting and can’t help tell the readers about it. And tell and tell. This can impede the flow of the narrative. Imagine readers skimming your book in the store. If they see pages and pages describing the castle grounds, or the chic hotel, they will probably put it down and pick up someone else’s book instead.
How bad is bad description? Think of bad description as being like that teacher who droned on and on and put the class to sleep. Good description is more like the teacher who got students involved by using anecdotes and making the class interactive. You don’t want the descriptive passages in your story to put your readers to sleep, do you?