How to Destroy Story Problems

How to Destroy Story ProblemsPhoto license

With the right approach, story problems can be a thing of the past. You need never be blocked by them again. Plan big, then small and you will wipe them out before they can get a foothold.

Story Problems in the Outline

Outline what you’re going to write before you start. Write one line descriptions of each major event. This point form road map is easy to fix. A thousand future words are described in a single sentence. Do all of the points flow together? Is the ending a good fit?

Taking the time to eliminate story problems at this stage is an incredible time saver. Work on your list of points until you’ve fixed all of the problem scenes. Now add a paragraph to each point describing how you will get your characters through its events. Don’t gloss over problems you see by deciding you’ll fix it when it comes up during the writing. Write the problem in bold, finish expanding your outline and come back and work out the changes before you go on to the next step.

Story Problems in the First Draft

Even after you’ve taken the time to work out all of the story problems you could find at the outline stage, they will still pop up when you get into the details. You need to blast through them so you can keep writing. The first draft is go time, not think time. Here’s how I get past them.

1. List Solutions

When you come to a story problem and can’t figure out a way through it, the solution is not to write a brief note and move on. Now is the time to deal with it. It won’t look any better later.

Use bold text so your scratch work doesn’t make it into the document until you want it to. Write a list of possible solutions. Include both the mundane and the bizarre. Got a character who needs to die? Your list should include things like a fatal heart attack and a giant turkey with a chain gun. Have fun with the list and it will take away some of the pain of the hold up. Plus you’ll be continuing to write. Try to come up with at least 10 ideas.

Once you have a good list, go through it and cut the impossible. There goes the turkey. Of what’s left, what else doesn’t fit with your story? Cut it. Try to get the list down to five or less.

2. Write Scenarios for the List

Now write brief scenarios for each of the solutions in your list. Point form is best. Don’t invest too much in each of your scenarios.

3. Merge and Cull the Scenarios

Sometimes just one scenario doesn’t stand out. Maybe combining two is the answer. You might even use the start of one combined with the ending for another. This almost always solves my story problem. When it doesn’t, I’ve picked up one final trick from the world’s most prolific writer.

4. Dynamite

Ryoki Inoue has written over 1000 books. He has found that dynamite can solve all story problems. What does that mean? Car accidents, drive by shootings, brain aneurysms, natural disasters are all available for killing off one or more characters that have become a problem. It’s a good last resort solution and, if you haven’t found a solution with the three steps above, it’s time to get the killing done and move on with your story.

Story Problems in the Second and Final Drafts

By this point in your writing, all story problems should be resolved. Your only problem is bringing the quality of your writing up to par. Because the first draft is fast and dirty writing, it is possible to zip past story problems without evening noticing them. The same method you used in the first draft will work here too. This time you will just continue working on the section until it is second draft quality.

For me, the final draft is often a surprise. I re-read my manuscript to do more second draft work on it until one day I discover there’s nothing to improve. I have my final draft. It’s celebration time.

The work’s not done yet. The book still needs a publisher, but the story problems are gone.

Article by Ivan Izo.


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