WRITING TIPS

What To Do With That ONE STORY That’s Just NOT Working For You

what to do with that one story that's just not working for you

“This story just isn’t working for me.” < Something I’ve said quite a lot. You know how sometimes you have an idea for a story and SOMETHING ABOUT IT JUST ISN’T WORKING?? It’s sad because there’s something you like about the story. It just needs help. But you have no idea WHAT needs help.

Maybe you have one or two components 100% sorted. Maybe you have the setting and characters nailed, but you have no idea what the plot is going to be. (Been there.) Maybe you have the plot, but no theme. (Been there too.) Or maybe you have all the “necessary” components of a story but you just don’t feel that excitement to write it. (BEEN THERE SO MANY TIMES.) If you’re struggling with this, YOU’RE NOT ALONE. And I might have your solution in this post. (I say “might” because this is not a boring Q+A type post that grills your creativity for answers it doesn’t have. INSTEAD, this post is the process I actually use to spark my creativity and come up with ideas I’ve never considered before. IT’S ALMOST LIKE A MCDONALDS PLAYPLACE FOR YOUR WRITERLY BRAIN.)

One of you lovely readers actually requested a post about this! I CAN’T REMEMBER WHO IT WAS AND I’M SO SORRY BUT — here we are. Today we’re going to take a look at the story that’s just NOT working for you…and see what we can do to get it up and running. YOU EXCITED? I AM. GRAB SOME WAFFLES AND LET’S GET ON WITH IT.

 

ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS

 

Allow me to let you in on a little secret: I ONCE HAD A STORY IDEA THAT GAVE ME FITS. In fact, “once” is a funny word to use because it was ACTUALLY LIKE THREE WEEKS AGO but that’s beside the point. I knew the setting I wanted (wild western oh yeah honey) and I knew the cast of characters (cinnamon roll outlaws yaaaas) BUT…THAT’S BASICALLY ALL I KNEW. The plot was super weak and not something I felt excited to write. I told my sister all my ideas (which wasn’t much) and she was like “That sounds cool…so what’s it about?” AND I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO ANSWER HER.

 

 

But I loved the premise! I loved the characters! I loved the world-building! I didn’t want to scrap the whole idea. So I tried to help myself… by grilling my creativity for solutions. It didn’t work. Why? Because I kept looking at the story from the same old perspective. I couldn’t see what was wrong with it — because I wasn’t changing my point of view. I wasn’t exactly sure WHAT was wrong with the story… and so eventually I assumed it wasn’t any good. I decided to throw out the whole idea. I told my sister. I sat at the table one morning and sighed and said: “I don’t think I’m going to write that story.” AND THEN MY GENIUS SISTER SAID, “Don’t throw it away! What if you…”

Her suggestion saved my story and sparked my creativity. I’m going to tell you what it is, but first I have to shout about THE POWER OF THE “WHAT IF.” Don’t be afraid to ask “what if” questions! You might be amazed by the new ideas that come alive. I started doing this a while ago (and I can’t think why I didn’t do it with this book) but it’s become even MORE important to me because IT’S PROVEN, GUYS. IT WORKS. Don’t try to puzzle out your story like it’s a math problem — instead, let your creativity take flight. Ask your brain a question and it will answer. Let’s start with the question my sister asked me that day:

 

WHAT IF I MADE IT THE SEQUEL TO A DIFFERENT BOOK?

 

EVEN IF THIS “DIFFERENT BOOK” WASN’T GOING TO HAVE A SEQUEL. That’s what happened with my story. I recently thought of a new story (one that actually HAS A PLOT) and the setting was basically the same (because I’m secretly obsessed with the Wild West lol.) This NEW story (let’s call it Justice for lack of a real title) was kind of going to replace the story that wasn’t working for me (let’s call that one Fugitives) BUT THEN… my sister gave me an idea.

What if I made Fugitives the sequel to Justice?? I’D NEVER THOUGHT OF THE POSSIBILITY BEFORE. Right away, my brain said: “Whoa whoa wait. Justice is a standalone, Abbie.” BUT WE ALL KNOW HOW THIS CONVERSATION GOES. Standalones don’t standalone for very long when you have plot bunnies attacking you every 0.3 seconds. So I let myself think about it. And then my creativity EXPLODED. I decided that Justice could easily spin into an action-adventure-murder-mystery DUOLOGY and boom— DONE DEAL.

So this is a perfect example because I was so close to tossing the entire idea of Fugitives in the trash. BUT NOW THIS PAIR OF STORIES HAS BECOME ONE OF MY FAVORITE IDEAS EVER. And that never would have happened if I didn’t ask “what if?” Let’s explore a few more questions that might get the ball rolling for your Problem Story™.

 

WHAT IF I TURN IT UPSIDE-DOWN?

 

This one is a bit more subjective. I don’t mean literally turn your laptop upside-down (that might annoy your hard drive actually 0/10 recommend.) I mean: look at your story from a new perspective. What happens if you rearrange events? What happens if you switch things up? What happens if you change the point of view and make a sub-character the protagonist instead? Or what if it was from the villain’s POV? What happens if you change the entire starting point of your story? What happens if you take the end of the story and put it at the beginning?

It’s so important as a writer to ask yourself questions like this. Why? Because you have to keep your creative mind open to new possibilities! We are constantly bombarded with so much Writing Advice™, sometimes it’s hard to strip all that away and get back to a place of pure imagination. ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE IMAGINATIVE. Step outside the box and have a look around. You might be surprised by what you find. JUST THINK ABOUT IT.

 

 

WHAT IF I MAKE IT A RETELLING?

 

THIS IS ALWAYS A FUN QUESTION. I love retellings, especially when they’re not strictly “by the book” — and by that I mean I LIKE NEW INVENTIONS. Maybe you’re writing a sci-fi thriller and it just feels “bleh” to you… what if it was actually a retelling of Around The World In 80 Days? With time travel instead of a geographical race? Or what if your dark faerie fantasy was actually a retelling of The Secret Garden? With evil magical plants and mysterious forces? Or what if your thought-provoking contemporary was actually a retelling of Black Beauty? With people instead of horses??

I ASK MYSELF CRAZY QUESTIONS LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME. And I’m always amazed by the brilliant answers my brain comes up with. Seriously don’t stop at just one “what if” — ASK YOURSELF A WHOLE BUNCH OF WILD QUESTIONS. Don’t be afraid to explore, push the boundaries, think outside the box!

 

OTHER HELPFUL WRITING RESOURCES:

 

WHAT IF I COMBINE THIS STORY IDEA WITH ANOTHER STORY IDEA?

 

There’s a small chance that if you’ve had this problem once, you’ve had it twice. Maybe you’ve got TWO Problem Stories™ simmering on the back burner at the moment. Have you ever thought about mixing them together and cooking them on one burner??? IT’S WORTH CONSIDERING, MY FRIEND. Even if one story doesn’t have the same setting or theme…would that be an issue? OR WOULD IT JUST BE MORE UNIQUE??

Unlikely combinations are so cool because they force you to put 2 and 57 together when you were trying to just put 2 and 2 together. SOMETIMES 59 IS THE BRILLIANT ANSWER YOU’RE LOOKING FOR. Ask questions! Make notes! Write all your story ideas on 3×5 cards and shuffle them around on the floor, just to see what things could go together. THERE ARE NO RULES. BE CREATIVE. BE CRAZY. TRY NEW THINGS.

 

WHAT IF I MAKE IT A SPIN-OFF STORY WITH CHARACTERS I’VE ALREADY INVENTED?

 

Maybe it’s time to scrap something. If you find yourself STILL stuck in a rut with your story, try eliminating some of the elements — such as characters. What if you replaced the cast of characters with ANOTHER cast of characters you’ve already written in another book? You’re familiar with them (and probably in love with them if you’re anything like me) SO THAT AUTOMATICALLY MAKES EVERYTHING EASIER. Could this story happen to characters you’ve already invented? Maybe not. But it’s worth thinking about!

 

WHAT IF I CHANGE THE THEME?

 

Okay so yes I know that YOU MIGHT ALREADY HAVE YOUR THEME FIGURED OUT. But is it really something you want to write? I was recently reminded about the importance of theme when I read this lovely post by Audrey Caylin — IT GOT ME THINKING. When I write a theme into my story, it has to REALLY mean something to me. Like…I have to be emotionally invested in my theme. It is the backbone of a good book. And in order to write a compelling theme, it has to mean something to YOU.

So maybe the question you should ask yourself is: what do I care about? What makes me angry? What makes me driven to change something about the world? It’s also important to remember that the answer to this question is always in flux — and that’s 1000% OKAY. Tomorrow I might be passionate/angry/driven about something TOTALLY different than what I’m passionate/angry/driven about today. That’s why certain stories need to be written when you feel that burning desire to pour them out of your heart. FOLLOW THAT CREATIVE DRIVE. It will lead you to great places.

 

 

ARE YOU STILL STUCK?

 

If you answered yes to this question, here’s my advice: GIVE IT SOME TIME. Ideas can’t be manufactured (not unique ones, anyway) — brilliance strikes like a bolt of lightning sometimes! OUT OF NOWHERE. That’s how it happens for a lot of people, myself included. Also: TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE ABOUT YOUR STORY. Whether that person is your mom, your sibling, your writing support group…anybody you trust. After all, it was my sister who gave me the brilliant idea I mentioned at the beginning!

BUT REMEMBER: stress doesn’t help. Sometimes you’re just thinking too hard and actually stressing yourself out, which makes your creative flow clog even more. RELAX. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. LET YOURSELF IMAGINE AND DREAM AND CREATE LIKE A LITTLE KID AGAIN. All good things take time. The oak tree sleeps in the acorn. It doesn’t look like a tree right now, but it will. Don’t throw it away.

 

TALK, BRO

Do you have a Problem Story™ giving you fits?? If so, I HOPE THIS POST WAS HELPFUL TO YOU. Were you ever stuck on a story and then broke through with a brilliant idea?? DO SHARE WHAT SAVED YOUR BOOK. Tell me all about your writerly victories in the comments below! 

 

rock on,

abbiee

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31 Comments

  • Reply Riley Aline

    YASSSSSS. These are all so great!!! And whoaaaaa, I had NEVER thought about combining top stories. That’s an interesting thought…

    I LOVE what if questions. I also really like asking “What can go wrong in this scene” AND MAKE IT HAPPEN BECAUSE MWAHAHA. It’s so great XD

    Great post, Abbiee!! Thanks for sharing!

    February 3, 2018 at 10:55 am
    • Reply Abbiee

      EEEP I’M SO HAPPY THIS POST INSPIRED YOU! *hugs* omg YES YES YES that is a great question to ask!! Lots of conflict possibilities *rubs hands together and laughs maniacally* xD Thank you so much for reading, girl!

      February 6, 2018 at 6:18 pm
  • Reply Julia

    Actually, I’ve been having trouble with my book; at first, I changed it by switching the POV to the villains. And that seemed like it was going to work. BUT THEN. I discovered that although my plot line is amazing and sounds awesome, it passes really fast? Like, after a 2 page chapter, it’s suddenly a month later because I didn’t make any filler when I was plotting. And this is a fairy-tale-spin-off, so there’s romance, and after skipping a month, it goes way to fast and people would NEVER ship it. 😂 Maybe I’ll leave it alone for now, and then come up with a way to fix it… I keep having amazing plot bunnies hop into my head this past week or so. 😂

    February 3, 2018 at 11:11 am
    • Reply Abbiee

      UGH I FEEL YOUR PAIN. :””) This kind of thing happens a lot! but yes it’s always a good idea to set something aside for a while and see what inspiration strikes! FAIRYTALE RETELLINGS ARE AWESOME THOUGH!! I hope it all works out. 😊✨ OMG THE PLOT BUNNY STRUGGLE IS REAL. *head desk* thank you so much for reading!

      February 6, 2018 at 6:22 pm
  • Reply Evangeline Yackel

    YOU LOVELY HUMAN, THANK YOU FOR THIS POST.

    I have been racking my brain on how to fix a particular idea (where I have all of my amazing characters, but no plot whatsoever), and thanks to this post, I decided to make it a retelling, which gives me SO MUCH PLOT. A million times thank you (also this was a really great post in general. A+ 10/10).

    February 3, 2018 at 11:33 am
    • Reply Abbiee

      SAKHLDASJDHASJKD THANK YOU!! I’m so happy this post inspired you, Evangeline! 😊💛 YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HAPPY THIS COMMENT MADE ME <3333 like wow I am honored!!! *hugs*

      February 6, 2018 at 6:25 pm
  • Reply Emily Y

    Dude I was JUST complaining to my friends about how I have had a plot hole for three months and can’t figure anything out.
    I love this story. I have been working on it for five years. I have the beginning and I have the end. I have a great cast of characters that I adore. It is the first book in a five book series, and I have all of the rest of the books planned out, I just have to get there. I have amazing villains with deep motivations and a setting I just LOVE, but, like, no plot whatsoever.
    Just yesterday, two friends of mine said that they would be willing to help, despite being told all of the plot twists and spoilers, and so I’m waiting to hear back from them on ideas.
    These questions are great!! Thank you so much for such a lovely post. I’m gonna keep trying new What If questions 😋.

    February 3, 2018 at 12:20 pm
    • Reply Abbiee

      I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL, EMILY. But I hope you get some awesome inspiration for your book!! It sounds like you love it and those are the best kinds of writing projects — the ones that come from the heart. ❤️✨ Talking with friends is such a great way to discover new ideas! EEEP THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING I’M SO GLAD YOU LIKED THIS POST.

      February 6, 2018 at 6:27 pm
  • Reply Hailey

    These tips are SO SOLID. Thank you!

    February 3, 2018 at 1:04 pm
    • Reply Abbiee

      AHHH THANK YOU HAILEY! *hugs*

      February 6, 2018 at 6:28 pm
  • Reply Abby M

    Yo!!! As soon as I saw the title for this i knew it would be my saving grace because I’m super unmotivated about my book lately. Thank you so much!! <33

    February 3, 2018 at 1:13 pm
    • Reply Abbiee

      Yay!! I’m so glad this post inspired you, Abby!! *high fives* YOU GOT THIS. 😉

      February 6, 2018 at 6:29 pm
  • Reply Kendra Lynne

    Man, it is so hard not to gush over your posts because they always hit home with me. Really.
    I have dealt with problem stories SO MUCH and I’ve often given up on them *sigh*.

    Recently I was seriously considering giving up a story idea I had been developing for some time, but it was so hard to try and do that because the overall theme was so dear to me. So I did a LOT of brainstorming. Then after that I wrote down everything I knew about my characters and in the process wrote down each of their backstories, figured out how their stories were connected, and in so doing I came up with the plot and felt so pleased with myself, because a story has GOT to have a plot and I am a total plotter. Diving into a story without a clear vision of it in mind doesn’t work for me. XD

    Thank you so, SO much for this post. Next time I have a problem story I am definitely going to try these out.

    February 3, 2018 at 2:45 pm
    • Reply Abbiee

      AHHH KENDRA LYNNE THIS COMMENT JUST BRIGHTENED MY DAY X100000 *hugs* I’m so glad you liked this post!! And omg yes I can totally relate to that… and PLOTTERS UNITE. *fist bump* This is exactly the kind of thing I love to do haha 😊✨ And that’s so cool how the characters’ backstory helped to develop the plot!! BACKSTORY IS LIKE MY FAVORITE THING EVER. :””) so important. ASDFGHLKJHFD YOU ARE AWESOME. thank you for reading as always!!!

      February 6, 2018 at 6:33 pm
  • Reply Musicgirl121

    Okay, so I know I said I probably wouldn’t be commenting a lot, but like….YOU PROBABLY JUST SAVED MY ENTIRE WRITING DREAM!!! I’m currently working on trying to plot a novel called Prodigy (for now) and it’s about a dystopian world and prodigy children and super prodigies and a rebellion and DEATH and like I’ve got my characters kinda figured out, but the PLOT IS NONEXISTENT AND I’VE BEEN FREAKING OUT THAT I’M NEVER GOING TO FIND IT.

    So basically:
    THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Also, I’m totally bookmarking this page for when I get frustrated with Prodigy again. Thanks a million, Abbie!!!! <3 <3 <3

    February 3, 2018 at 4:39 pm
    • Reply Abbiee

      OH MY GOODNESS THIS COMMENT JUST MADE MY DAY. 😊💛 thank you!!! I’m so happy this post resonated with you and inspired you!! AHH. Your novel sounds EPIC. OMG. But yes I can totally relate to the no-plot thing. *closes eyes and nods slowly* THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. But asfjkld;fskjf thank you!! YOU’RE THE BEST.

      February 6, 2018 at 6:52 pm
      • Reply Musicgirl121

        I’M SO FLATTERED THAT MY SCREAMY COMMENT MADE YOUR DAY. Yes, this post completely resonated with me and has inspired lots of new opportunities for Prodigy. REALLY?!? MY NOVEL IDEA SOUNDS FASCINATING?!? THANK YOU, ABBIE THAT MEANS SO MUCH COMING FROM YOU. *screams for before collapsing onto the floor and making reptor noises*

        February 7, 2018 at 1:50 am
        • Reply Abbiee

          OMG YOU ARE THE BEST 💛💛💛💛💛

          February 13, 2018 at 9:20 am
  • Reply Keira

    Abbiee, have you been reading my mind or something? This is exactly the kind of post that I need, because I must get back into writing and finish this story (confession of a writer who said she developed a writing habit with NaNoWriMo, but actually didn’t).

    Not sure which one of these tips I’ll use yet, but you definitely brought inspiration to my fickle writer brain, so THANK YOU FOR THAT.

    you’re the best,
    k.

    February 4, 2018 at 11:26 am
    • Reply Abbiee

      AHHHH KEIRA I’M SO HAPPY THIS POST INSPIRED YOU!! *tackle hugs* and wow yes I can relate to the writing habit thing… I felt on a roll with NaNoWriMo but now I have this minor paralysis when I think about writing again… *nervous laughter* BUT YES THANK YOU FOR READING EEEEP YOUR COMMENTS ALWAYS BRING ME JOY 💛💛💛

      February 6, 2018 at 6:54 pm
  • Reply Clarissa

    Of course your advice is as wonderful as ever, Abbiee!! I need to remember to think outside the box instead of just scrapping the idea. Question though- what advice do you have for when you’re halfway through a novel and this happens??

    February 5, 2018 at 1:14 am
    • Reply Abbiee

      EEEP THANK YOU CLARISSA 💛✨ oooh that’s a really good question. I aggressively plot my novels so I usually sort out the whole story before I start writing, which means I usually don’t get stuck in the middle… but if I did, I would probably look at the components of the story and kind of figure out what’s working and what’s not working…then see if I can scrap something that’s not working and rework the story with a new idea! 😀 idk I feel like that’s not very helpful… *nervous laughter* thank you for reading, dear!

      February 6, 2018 at 6:59 pm
  • Reply Abi

    I loved this post! It was 100% helpful, so thank you. I’ve had a rewrite of an INCREDIBLY messy first draft that I’ve been trying to plot out but haven’t really been loving, but this definitely helped inspire me! I think I’m going to mix it with a poor abandoned story of mine that I really love. So. I’m excited. Again, loved this post!

    February 6, 2018 at 11:19 am
    • Reply Abbiee

      EEEEP I’M SO HAPPY YOU LIKED THIS POST AND IT INSPIRED YOU ABI 💛✨ this comment just totally brightened my day!! *high fives* BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR WIP! I’m sure it will turn out awesome. 😉

      February 6, 2018 at 7:05 pm
  • Reply Audrey Caylin

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS POST! My Problem Story has been a Problem Story for a long time and I STILL haven’t figured it out but this post helped a TON. It’s like my favorite story of all time but it doesn’t have a plot somehow?!??! And I can’t decide on the theme 😛 BUT OMW THIS POST HELPED SO MUCH. I have a feeling the plot bunnies are going to attack tonight 😉

    (omw you mentioned my post thank you <33)

    February 6, 2018 at 9:03 pm
    • Reply Abbiee

      EEEEEP I’M SO HAPPY YOU LIKED THIS POST AUDREY!! *hugs* omg that makes me so happy wow 💛✨ I FEEL UR PAIN WITH THAT STORY. I hope it all works out for you!! (you are most welcome, girl!! IT WAS AN AWESOME POST.)

      February 13, 2018 at 9:20 am
  • Reply Amelia Ruth

    OHMYGOSH I’M THE OWN WHO REQUESTED THIS POST!!!! *screams + dances around in a circle* MAN this helped me so muuuuuuchhhhh!!!! THANK YOU GIRLIE ASDFGHJKL. I am so excited now to write that one story that has been bugging me for AGES.
    loooooveeeeeee <33333333

    February 7, 2018 at 1:49 pm
    • Reply Abbiee

      ASDFGHJKL YOU’RE THE ONE WHO REQUESTED IT??? I’M SO SORRY I FORGOT 😂❤️ but wow I’m SO STOKED you liked this post!!!! *high fives* YOU GO, GIRL.

      February 13, 2018 at 9:21 am
  • Reply noor

    this post is perfect. all of your posts are perfect. GAH. this is helping me so much with editing my wip (which is awful, but a little less awful thanks to this post :))

    i adore the new site by the way!! <3

    ~ noor

    February 7, 2018 at 8:07 pm
    • Reply Abbiee

      I’M SO GLAD THIS POST WAS HELPFUL 💛✨ thank you so much, Noor!! *hugs* this comment brightened my day. :’)

      February 13, 2018 at 9:22 am
  • Reply Chelsea

    Ooooh, I’ve done the retelling one before! I finished a first draft, but my lovely alpha reader didn’t like the epilogue, since she felt it jumped way too much from the end of the book, so she suggested I write a sequel, which I really didn’t take kindly too. NO. ONE DOES NOT SIMPLY WRITE A SEQUEL TO A STANDALONE NOVEL!!!!! (I feel you might be able to relate to that :P). But I did give it some thought. It just wasn’t working, I had no ideas and it just wasn’t working. BUT THEN I started listening to an audiobook version of A Tale of Two Cities and I was about ten minutes in when I was struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration. WHY NOT MAKE THE SEQUEL A RETELLING OF A TALE OF TWO CITIES! it fitted really well with the plot of the first (since it was a Les Miserables retelling) and then I had so many ideas and I’m currently plotting with fervour.
    Anyway, the point of that rambling comment was, a) retellings are awesome, go and write one. b) this post was also awesome. 😀

    February 14, 2018 at 9:08 pm
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