13 Things You’re Probably Doing Wrong With Your Story


Writing seems easy, which is probably why it is so dang hard. 

Reminds me of this infamous definition: A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult. 


Writing, particularly storytelling, can go wrong in so many ways. Here are 13 of the most notorious. 

13 Things You’re Probably Doing Wrong With Your Story

  1. Confusing an idea for a story: A good idea is necessary for a good story, but not sufficient. A story is made of many good ideas that connect to one *great* idea. 
  2. Not understanding story: I hold to William C. Martell’s definition of story: a story is when a protagonist is forced to resolve an internal (emotional) problem in order to solve an external problem. 
  3. Under-developing the story: Probably the biggest problem with most stories is that the author rushed the development phase. The urge to jump into writing is a strong temptation, but often is also a trap. Spend time massaging the story idea, concept and premise. The more time spent on this stage, the better the story. Question every part and element of the story. What if the story took place in another setting? What if the bad guy was the good guy? What if the context was hit men instead of an ad agency? Can anything be altered to develop a better story?
  4. Vague Conflict: Great stories are fueled by clear, concrete and specific conflict. There is little room for foggy, uncertain conflict. Not any danger, a very specific danger. Not any mob, THIS mob. Not any natural disaster, a very specific type of earth quake. 
  5. No stakes: Also known as the “So what?” Test. So what if your protagonist doesn’t get the job or the girl. So what if your protagonist doesn’t win, stop the bad guy or rescue her sister. What happens if she fails? There must be massive personal and physical and -often better-global stakes. Really bad things – the worst things possible- must happen if the hero fails. And those consequences should be immediate or scheduled at a very specific time – 5 minutes until the bomb explodes! 
  6. Too many characters: A good rule of thumb is to include as many characters as necessary and as few as possible. Most stories need at least two – the protagonist and antagonist. After those two, limit the cast in your story as much as possible. Combine two characters into one. Eliminate as many as possible. 
  7. Boring characters: Readers want to hang out with cool, unusual, fascinating characters. Notice likable is not on the list. Personally, I’ll read about someone bad or evil as long as they are interesting. Compelling characters are motivated, often flawed and struggle with an emotional issue – the issue at the center of the story. 
  8. Boring plot: Why write a beautifully written book that nobody reads? Write something big, something unique, something never seen before, something fun and action-packed and compelling. A rule of thumb is to add something dramatic and compelling every 5 pages. Scenes that totally change things, escalate conflict and make the protagonist’s life much worse. Include tension (of some kind) on every page. Add twists, turns and revelations to keep readers on the edge of thier seats. 
  9. Filling the story with Filler: Everything not connected to the theme is filler. Everything that doesn’t reveal character and/or advance the story is filler. Filler is action just for action, pedantic dialouge and frivolous side missions that don’t change the story. Repetition is filler! I repeat, repetition is filler! That means repeated scenes, information and dialouge. Filler is boring. Filler dilutes the story, trading essence for the irrelevant. 
  10. Slow beginning: Even bestselling authors sometimes do this…and it kills the story every time. Probably the more important fact: Almost all unpublished authors do it. Virtually every mega-bestselling novel or blockbuster movie start with something fascinating. A compelling action, event, conversation or scene. Don’t start slow! Start with an involving experience that hooks the reader immeditetly. 
  11. Subplotitis: Endless subplots that don’t add anything except to word count. Don’t do it! Limit subplots to just a few fascinating characters involved with juicy (dramatic & theme-related) activities. The subplots should explore, mirror, magnify or contrast the main conflict. 
  12. Not connecting everything: Theme, characters, setting, action, dialouge and scenes should be connected to the internal and external conflict that make up the essence – the emotional core- of the story. The more connected the story, the better the story and the more impact the story has on readers. This is as true about the global construction of the story as it is about the logical action-reaction execution of each scene. 
  13. Not agonizing over sentences: Every word and every sentence counts. My goal is always a great story written well. I want my sentences, paragraphs and pages to shine. I want near perfect execution of each word choice, each sentence construction, each page. 

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Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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Posted in screenwriting, writer, Writing

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