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Who's in charge here?!
Story stuck? Try changing narrators!
You've got a story idea. It's awesome. You've got the outline, the characters, the setting, and you've even chosen the pen you'll sign autographed copies with when it becomes a screaming success. All you have to do is write it.
There's just one problem: it's not coming together.
Every time you sit down, it turns into a grind. The words don't flow. The characters don't work. The arguments are flat, the action's not active enough, and you've barely gotten 5,000 words before realizing that this has no future.
Which sucks, considering you've already decided it'll change the world.
Been there? It's a terrifying hurdle, especially for new writers. What's wrong with my story? Why doesn't it work? What's the problem here? You poke and you prod, but you just can't find the sticky spot that welds the story in place. It just won't move beyond the first couple chapters, and when you reread your hard work, it sounds... well... like crap.
Cheer up! There are options for sparking new life into your story. It may seem overwhelming at first, but there are usually some common culprits that you can tackle to smooth everything out.
For example: sometimes, it's a wording problem. Slow down, explain yourself, and the story will fall back into place. Sometimes, it's the wrong direction. The idea that you had in your head is great, but the characters aren't interested, so you'll have to go back to the drawing board to try to redraft them or the situation. And sometimes, you've got the wrong person in charge.
Don't worry, this is a lesson I'm still learning, too. Remember that snippet from last week, the sci-fi serial that's pretty much shit? When I wrote it, I had a particular main character in mind. It was a redemption story: this character's fight against the institution, his attempt to bring down a massive organization, his penance for helping to build it where it was today. He's a decent guy, but he has a lot to learn over the course of the story. That's great, since it's the entire point of the tale.
Here's the problem: he sucks as a main character.
Believe me, I tried to make it work. It makes sense, right? All kinds of other fighting-against-evil stories use their main character to bring it all down. And I'm sure he'll play a really great role in the future. But following him around, watching him learn all this stuff, without shadowing anybody else? It's boring as hell. He's not a very interesting dude, and he only allowed me to see one side of the story. If this is a world I want to build, I'm going to need more than just his perspective.
Sound complicated? It does in the beginning, but trust me, it'll make sense.
Let's try an example: Star Wars, A New Hope.
(Yes, it's a movie. We're talking about the story here, not just books. This will make sense, I swear.)
The worldbuilding side of Star Wars is immense. Rebels on forest planets, Imperials driving moons that aren't moons, Jedis holding councils, Siths using a chokehold, the Force holding everything together. A giant space battle seems to be political, but is actually driven by the Dark Side. Nobles get involved, trying to protect their people, and backwoods farmers get dragged into the war of a lifetime.
There's a lot going on. Luckily, we have a few characters to help us understand all sides:
Luke Skywalker: the nobody who becomes somebody. Has no business getting involved in a war, but follows Ben Kenobi into it anyway. Curious about the Force, and has no connection to politics.
Ben Kenobi: the Light Side mentor. Introduces us to the good vs. evil aspect of the Force. Doesn't have political leanings, but does understand that the two - politics and the Force - are connected in this war.
Darth Vader: the Sith man in charge of the political mission. He's the connection to both the Nobles and the Force, bringing the two of them together into one war.
Princess Leia: the Noble. Works with the rebels, who plot the political downfall of the Imperial Empire. Has no connection to the Force.
Han Solo: the one who represents everybody else. Has no political leanings, zero interest in the Force, and generally wants to be left alone. Honestly, it's hard to eke out a living when there's always a battle in space.
Of course, there are others, too. But these five seem to be the main ones that cover the biggest angles: a noble, two Jedi, a Sith, and a scruffy-looking nerfherder.
In a way, they kind of look like a flow chart. If you start with the idea that this war is both political and on the Dark Side (Darth Vader), you can branch off from there by asking who'd oppose it. Answer: The Light Side (Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker), the Nobles and Rebels (Princess Leia), and basically everyone else (Han Solo).
It's a balance: everybody vs. Vader. He wants a war, and he follows the Dark Side. In order for there to be conflict, we have to oppose both of those things.
If the story only followed Luke Skywalker, you'd only hear about the Force. Yes, there would be stormtroopers, and lasers, and ships falling out of space, but it would be in the background. Not as important as the spiritual struggle between Light and Dark. By introducing characters who have no connection to the Force at all, the political good vs. evil storyline becomes more important. This war doesn't just affect the Jedi and the Sith. It's bigger than that. It's the whole universe. And we need characters to tell us so.
You could boil Star Wars down to two people, Skywalker and Vader, but they don't represent the whole story. You need everybody else to bring depth to the tale, to make the war believable, to explain how it affects everyone - not just the ones dedicated to the Force.
That depth is what's missing from my story. That's what makes it believable. And that's what I'm trying to fix.
Now, for anyone saying You can write a story with one main character!, you're right. You can write a story and follow one main character around. It can be done. In the Maze Runner (by James Dashner), there is one main character, and you do follow him around, and it works.
However, the story is built on suspense. Only allowing the reader to see one side of the world allows Dashner to confuse his characters, and keep his readers in the dark alongside them. That way, when the Big Final Twist comes, nobody's ready for it - not the heroes, not the readers, not anybody.
If suspense is what you're going for, one character would be perfect. They don't know everything, they have to learn, and your Big Twist will be a success. But if your goal is worldbuilding, and you're struggling with one main character, introduce more. Cover all the aspects of your world. Balance your Light and Dark Sides. Let them tell their stories, and help your reader understand that there's more to this place than meets the eye.
What's currently making your story stick? Is it your characters, or something else? What's your solution to bring problem stories back to life?
(Photo by Lino Khgm Medrina, Pexels)