Pull up a chair! Grab a latte. A Lady Grey. A shandy.
I was going to call this blog post, ‘What’s Wrong With This Bloody Story?‘
But on second thoughts that title might be misleading. Who’s story? Which story? Your story or my story?
See what I’m sayin’?
Let’s narrow it down.
Don our Focus Goggles.
Later this month I’m planning a girlandduck Winter Sale. I’m going to pop my Character Creation Intensive (eleven video tutorials all about character creation) on sale. I want to get it out to as many peeps as possible. (If you want to know the minute the sale starts, hop on my mailing list.)
Planning the little sale got me thinking about character creation. (Surprise, surprise.)
And that got me thinking about problematic stories.
And that got me thinking, Hmm, there’s a blog post in this.
So, aside from taking my Character Creation Intensive, here are four things to help you if your story is currently STUCK or heading down a grey and gloomy road.
1. Lose The Plot
Take your eyes off the plot for a while and look closely at your characters. In my experience, flimsy characters struggle to carry a decent story, engage readers or develop intriguing plotlines.
Remember, your characters (not just your intellect or your creativity), write the best plots.
Look closely at the relationships in your story.
Years ago, when I was writing The Accidental Princess and agonising over the plot, my lovely publisher at Penguin said (quite nonchalantly), ‘Of course, Jen, the entire story is about the relationship between the sisters’.
Say whaaat?! This was a freakin’ revelation.
I was so caught up in the high-jinx of the imps, and the hoo-haa of the hedge troll, and the duplicity of the magic cat, that I lost sight of the one thing that always pulls readers back to a story: the characters and their relationships.
Readers don’t give two hoots about how many imps or trolls or talking cats there are in your story if they don’t care about the CHARACTERS and their relationships.
3. Get Motivated
If your story is lagging, go back to the start and examine the motives that are driving your characters.
Are these motives compelling enough to push the characters forward?
If not, perhaps you need to raise the stakes, tighten the tension, light a bigger fuse.
Go back to the beginning of your story, to that moment when your characters first wander (or swagger or bolt) onto the page and read it with a cool eye.
Stories become weak and dribbly if the beginning is rushed and the main characters are not at least vaguely frantic, concerned or deeply challenged about something.
In other words, pull some strings (or tension threads) and make your characters CARE. Ideally, the characters must be even more invested in the story than you are.
4 Relationships, Part Two
When I said back in Tip 2 that you’ve gotta look at relationships, I meant ALL the relationships.
Definitely look at how your characters relate to each other.
But also look at how they relate to the world around them, to the challenges and problems you’re throwing at them and, importantly, how they relate to themselves.
Give your main characters rich or surprising inner lives (and please let your readers into that hidden world now and then).
Well-rounded characters are complex, flawed, often contradictory.
What makes your characters tick?
How can you make their inner lives more intriguing?
Providing our characters with rich inner lives helps strengthen motives and dramatic tension, drive action, push stories into surprising places.
See how all these things entwine and strengthen each other?
Pretty cool, hey?
Thank you for pulling up a chair and hanging with me today, dear reader. I deeply appreciate your company.
And don’t forget to hop on my mailing list if you’d like to know about the winter sale and the Character Creation Intensive.
Bye for now!
3 Replies to “Four Ways to Improve Your Story”
Great advice as usual Jen! Thank you for taking the time to put pen to paper 🥰
Thank you for taking a seat with me in the virtual cafe, Rhiannon! xo
Characters in action, Jen, an impish cat, and beautiful winter sunshine 🙂