13 Most Common Story Problems—and Their Solutions

  1. I start with a long boring exposition. Solution: Start with a scene. Many writers, even of nonfiction, forget about how much of any book is taken up with scenes, rather than exposition. A book is not an essay. You need to show things dramatically, with characters and conflict.
  2. Readers say they don’t care about my characters. Solution: You are probably starting your story too late. Go back and show your character in sympathetic, good moments before they start becoming problematic.
  3. I slow down the action by explaining too much. Solution: only one paragraph of explanation allowed at a time.
  4. My story feels like it’s just one character against the planet. Solution: characters are only interesting in relationship to each other—write other characters and get them in dialogue, have them fight with each other.
  5. I’m stuck in the middle of the book and don’t know how to get to the end. Solution: You keep thinking you need to solve your character’s problems, but most of the book should be taking up with making them even worse than they currently are.
  6. My dialogue is too flat. Solution: All dialogue should be doing at least two things at once. It’s about developing the characters, but it’s also about worldbuilding, showing conflict, moving the plot forward, adding humor, and more!
  7. My romantic characters don’t have enough spark with each other. Solution: You need to set them up so that they uniquely annoy each other and that no matter how attracted they are to each other, they will never be able to be together. Then also make them need each other so much, they have to figure it out.
  8. Killing off a Female/Black/Indigenous Character. Solution: Don’t do this. Never kill off one of these characters. It will always make your book more trite.
  9. My villain is more interesting than my hero. Solution: Is your villain actually the hero of the story? Try writing it from their point of view instead. What do they want? What do they do to get it?
  10. I don’t have enough of a character arc for my main character. Solution: Make your main character less perfect. Top 3 problem in every novel I see is that the main character is too nice/too perfect to begin with. If you’re going to show them grow and develop, they have to have a bunch of problems to grow out of!
  11. I have too many points of views. Solution: Ideally, tell the story from one point of view. Stick with that character’s point of view and only tell what they can know about the story. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  12. I start out with a fun line/gimmick/plot idea, but it peters out. Solution: Delete it. It got you started on this story, but it’s not the heart of it.
  13. My character is too passive. Solution: Let them make more mistakes. Let them drive the plot. Often, this is a result of wanting your character to be too nice, or believing that wanting things and demanding to get them is a character flaw in real life. You may need to work on your own passivity and sense of seeing the world as a victim or other people’s actions.
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