3 min read

5 reasons your story may not be working (and what to do to fix it)

An abstract image with scribbles, representing the editing process.

We're all in this wild, wonderful world of fiction writing together, aren't we? But sometimes, our stories refuse to cooperate even when we've given it our all. Let's examine some common reasons your story might be falling short, along with expert tips to help whip it back into shape.

Your characters are flat

Characters are the lifeblood of any story, but sometimes they can seem uninspiring and two-dimensional, failing to engage the reader.

What to do: It's time for some character development! Dive deep into your characters' backstories, personalities, hopes, and fears. This isn't just about them liking rock music or chocolate ice cream – think about what drives them, what keeps them up at night. Flesh them out until they feel as real to you as your best mate.

Your plot has gone AWOL

A solid plot is like the spine of your story, providing structure and direction. Without it, your narrative may meander aimlessly.

What to do: Get back to basics with some good old-fashioned plotting. Try mapping out your story's main events, the significant twists and turns, and the climax. This isn't about chaining yourself to an overly detailed plan but rather about setting up signposts to guide your story down its path.

It's a yawn-fest

Even with a great plot and well-developed characters, a story can still fall flat if it lacks a certain spark or energy.

What to do: Mix things up a bit! Experiment with different sentence structures, play around with pacing and throw in some unexpected twists. Keep your reader on their toes, and they'll keep turning those pages.

The dialogue is stiff

Dialogue can make or break your story. If it's stilted or unnatural, it can pull readers out of the narrative.

What to do: Pay attention to how people talk in real life. Notice how they rarely speak in perfect sentences and often say things indirectly. Strive to make your dialogue feel natural while also using it to reveal character traits and advance the plot.

Your story's conflict is MIA

Conflict is the engine of a story. Without it, your narrative can quickly lose momentum and fail to engage the reader.

What to do: Don't shy away from conflict. Whether it's internal turmoil within a character, a disagreement between characters, or a struggle against external forces, conflict drives a story forward and keeps readers hooked.

The setting is non-existent

A well-crafted setting can immerse readers in your story. If your setting is vague or poorly described, your characters might seem to exist in a vacuum.

What to do: Use sensory details to make your setting come alive. This doesn't mean you must write pages of descriptive prose – just a few well-placed details can create a vivid, immersive setting.

Your story's tone is juggling more balls than a circus performer

An inconsistent tone can confuse readers and detract from your story. Whether dark, light, humorous, or serious, your tone should be a continuous thread throughout your narrative.

What to do: Decide on your story's tone from the outset and keep it consistent. This doesn't mean there's no room for variation – a dark story can have moments of lightness – but the overall tone should be clear and steady.

The writer's toolkit for story repair

Writing, like any craft, often involves a bit of troubleshooting. If your story isn't working, don't despair. Use these tips as tools in your writer's toolkit to identify the issues and set your story back on track.