Don’t Let Your Story Stall!

Reread the last scene you wrote for your novel or memoir. Now summarize “what happens” in the scene to move the story forward. Moving the story means your MC must be somehow moving toward the goal, even if the movement is some type of setback.  Is identifying what happens (of consequence) difficult? If so, you may need to rethink the scene or chapter.
Writing Tip for Today: You can learn to identify and remedy scenes where not enough happens. Consider these things:

  • Beware Marching in Place.  Marching in Place can happen even if the scene is full of action. You can blow stuff up, create a fist fight or burn down the MC’s house. But if this doesn’t somehow tie into the overall quest, goal or theme, it’s not going to be interesting. If the scene you’ve written does little or nothing to get the MC closer to the goal, it will feel as though the story has stalled. A reader may wonder what the scene has to do with the overall story or simply stop reading. Many times this type of stalling occurs in the MIDDLE of the book. We run out of ideas to portray the struggle. A writing partner or crit group can often help you brainstorm better ideas for scenes that fall flat.
  • Expand the Plot Points. Often, a writer has a good idea of about five plot points: The beginning or Inciting Incident, the Complication (things get worse), the Climax and resolution. Take a look at your COMPLICATION point and try to break it down into at least THREE sub-points. These can help you move the story through the stubborn middle ground. Also, the middle of the book is a great place to bring SUBPLOTS to the surface in a more complex way. By weaving together these two factors (COMPLICATIONS or REVERSALS and SUBPLOTS), your scenes will be able to better keep tension high and readers reading.
  • Carry a PRUNING TOOL not a FLAMETHROWER. When you have a draft, be willing to rewrite substantially. Any marching in Place scenes will need to be redone so that no scenes feel stalled. Many times these scenes also have little action (seated around a table, dialogue-heavy scenes, scenes where only one character is on stage), but not always. You want to prune judiciously–cutting out only the stuff not doing the job. Try summarizing each scene by asking, “What HAPPENS in this scene?” If the answer is “Not much,” then you can eliminate, combine or shorten the scene to force it to do its job.
Question: What is the most difficult aspect of deciding if a scene is actually moving the story? I’d love to hear from you!

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Don’t Let Your Story Stall!

  1. I am a published author but I don’t know how to get past the writer’s block I have had for years. I can’t really promote my books the traditional way anyway but I would love to write stories for my family and friends and possibly write a blog. I am into Christian chick lit with a little thriller action, such as in Flee the night by Susan May Warren.. I love Dee Henderson’s books and the O’Malley series. I would love to be able to write like that but there’s no way without some more training.

  2. Anonymous, I think the best training is to read a LOT and write a LOT. Sounds as if you’ve got the first one in the bag. Now to go beyond writer’s block, give yourself permission to write an awful, terrible, sucky draft. Just let ‘er rip. Later (after it has sat for a few days), go back and start evaluating where the problems are & how to revise. Don’t get discouraged! Keep Wreiting, Linda

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