Reasons Your Story Might Be Stuck - And How To Fix It

Feel like you've written yourself into a corner? Can't figure out how to take you story forward? Here's a collection of common reasons people get stuck when writing - along with some ways to get yourself unstuck if any of these reasons apply to you. Further on, you can find some tips to help you avoid getting stuck in the first place!

Last updated: September 20, 2020

Your story might be stuck because...

You made one side too powerful or too competent. It happens that many people create powerful, competent antagonists in order to challenge their protagonists, but they neglect to ask themselves a couple of key questions: how are their protagonists going to get out of the predicaments the antagonists put them in, and how are they eventually overcome and defeat the antagonists? The protagonists need an opening somewhere - maybe there's a flaw or oversight in an antagonist's plan, or maybe the antagonist has a weakness or flaw that could be exploited, or maybe the protagonists know someone somewhere who could be of help.

You made one side too weak or too incompetent. Sometimes it happens that people make antagonists who are technically defeatable, but their protagonists lack the ability to actually do it. For example, the antagonist could be taken down if certain records were made public, but the protagonist doesn't actually have the means or know-how to make that happen. If this is the problem, then you need to make sure your protagonist can get the means to make things happen - maybe start the story with a necessary skill, or learn it along the way, or meet someone who can lend assistance.

You didn't give your characters enough gumption and/or motivation to do anything that would move the plot forward. This one can happen for two reasons. One is that your characters just aren't proactive enough. The other is that your characters just don't have a reason to get involved. To remedy this, retool your characters to be more proactive, and/or give them reasons of some sort - whether internal, external, or both - to act.

Changing one element negated something else. For example, maybe you decided that you don't want your phlebotinum to work a certain way after all, because it makes it too easy for the heroes to solve an upcoming problem... except, the plot already relied on it working that way to solve another problem! In a case like this, you might ask yourself, "How might things go down differently, yet still produce the outcome I want?" Alternatively, you might ask yourself if there's a reason that things might work differently this time - perhaps the phlebotinum gets lost, or damaged, or maybe it has limited uses?

You didn't account for the bigger implications of your story's premise. For example, maybe you decided that ten percent of the population would spontaneously transform into mythological creatures. Only, you wanted mythological creatures to be rare so they could remain relatively unknown from the general populace, but now you're starting to realize that 10% is actually a pretty big number and there's no way the world at large wouldn't notice something. To avoid this problem, start running thought experiments and thinking things through before you start writing.

You don't know where you're going with your plot. It often happens that writers merrily start out with a premise for their stories... only to hit a block when they reach the end of their premise with nowhere else to go. To fix this problem, try to figure out where you want everything to ultimately end up - then, stop and think out some possible ways your characters might get from here to there.

You neglected to work out how to bridge two plot points. For example, maybe you're writing a story about a character from a small town who is supposed to get noticed by some big name celebrity - but you never actually figured out how the character would make the leap from milling around in a small town to getting noticed by celebrity. In a situation like this, you need to stop and think about what you need to have happen next, and how events and circumstances might enable this to happen.

You have repetitive or otherwise unnecessary story segments. You might find yourself struggling to get through your story simply because you're trying to force yourself through something you don't actually need. Stop and look at your story segments or arcs. Do any of them amount to something that happened earlier done over again? Do any of them fail to bring the characters closer to the conclusion? If so, could you easily combine or drop any of them altogether? Or could you get away with simply glossing over them instead of detailing them?

You're stuck on an irrational feeling that something "should" be happening between two plot points. Some people get hung on a notion that there ought to be something that happens between Point A and Point B when it's not really the case. This feeling can be brought about by remembering other stories and how they're paced. You might think that because something took longer to happen in another story, means that you might need to add something into yours to slow things down a bit. But the reality is, all you usually need to worry about is what it will take to get your characters moved from Point A to Point B with everything they need to have and know about, and what it takes to have the audience aware of everything they need to know about.

How to prevent yourself from getting stuck in the first place

To minimize the odds of finding yourself stuck again, taking these four steps can help a lot:

Define what stuff in your story does and doesn't do, and consider its ramifications early on. See Setting Rules & Limitations In Your World: Why & How You Need To Do This and Phlebotinum-Development Questions. This will help you prevent creating problems that your characters can't solve and help prevent you from creating things that solve perhaps too many problems.

Ask yourself what your story will require your characters to do. Then give your characters the motivation, means, and guts to get it done and/or plan out story arcs in which they'll gain it. Try to make sure that you haven't set things up so it ends up that there's no feasible way for the plot to progress at some point.

Aim to create proactive characters. Check out Grail Character Syndrome: How To Be The Center Of Attention And Yet Be A Total Bore and Alexis Feynman's Guide To Writing Proactive Characters for more information on this.

Outline your story. Make a list of your story's important plot events from beginning to end, and put a little thought into figuring out how the characters are going to progress and get through each one. And figure out your endpoint as soon as possible - it's a lot easier to figure out how to complete your story when you know where you're trying to go with it.

Also, you might be interested in:

"Help! I Need Ideas For My Story/Setting/Character!" - How To Get Ideas For Yourself!
How To Break Your Creative Blocks
What To Do When You Have A Character, But No Plot
On Plot Structure & Plotting
Plot & Story Development Questions
Stuff You Should Cut From Your Story
"Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself!
Universal Creative Tips For Everything & Everyone

The Plot Punter
"How Your Pairing Met" Generator
Character Bonding Moment Generator

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