Dead End or Fixer Upper? What to do when your short story doesn’t work.

Deadend                  OR                          fixup

There comes a time when you are working on a story, and you realize that it just isn’t working. What to do? Is it time to just stop and put it in the drawer, or should you try to fix it up? Before you delete it or tear it up, it’s time to look closely at the story. First, identify what is working in the story, then evaluate what isn’t working. Here are some problems you may encounter and what you can do to fix them.  

The story gets stuck. Fix this by brainstorming ten to twenty possible ‘What next? scenarios’. Be as ridiculous or brilliant in these possibilities. Pick one and write from there.

The main character or setting isn’t working. The fix of choice is to jazz up the character or setting with something quirky. If your story’s setting is an ordinary store, slip your characters into an antique shop, or creepy mansion. What would Harry Potter’s story be like if he had gone to an all boys school instead of a school for wizards? If your main character isn’t very interesting, give them an obsession or odd characteristic. After all, would Scrooge have been such a memorable character had he not been obsessed with money?

The story drags. Fix the slowness by tightening up your sentences. Make the sentences shorter and more dynamic. By varying the length of your sentences, you can build tension and keep your reader engaged in the action.

The story is too wordy, or you need a lower word count. Is the problem you are telling and not showing? Fix this by editing out those adjectives and adverbs – replace them with strong nouns and verbs. Challenge yourself to edit out one word from each sentence, and you can decrease you word count significantly.

An information dump grinds the action to a halt. A great fix for this problem is to work that information into the dialogue. Having two or more characters discuss the backstory makes the information more interesting, and you can add shading as to what the characters think about the information at the same time.

The ending is too serene or trite. Again, to fix this problem brainstorming is your friend. Consider several possible endings. Adding some romance or violence to the ending might create a satisfactory resolution. Also, it isn’t necessary to resolve all the threads of the story. Leaving some threads open-ended can allow your readers to conjure their own possibilities, or allow you to leave them waiting for your next story.

So the next time you are having a difficult time with a story try these fixes and see if you can salvage it.


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