Too often, we start writing a story only to let it fall by the wayside after it begins to seem unwritable. If you want to breathe new life into a story which seems insurmountable, consider these top tips:
1. Alter your perspective. The perspective we choose when beginning a story – be that a character, a certain narrative voice, or tense – can easily become wedded to that story in our minds. But don’t be constrained by your own chosen perspective. If you’re losing momentum, it may be that the angle you’re writing from just isn’t interesting you anymore and, by proxy, won’t interest your reader. Consider a side character who fascinates you and begin writing from their perspective, or a more omniscient voice which can interact with a wider range of characters and locations. In The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh, the narrative changes frequently from 3rd to 2nd to 1st This allows Mackintosh new perspectives on previously trodden ground, as well as giving her narrative a feeling of constant forward motion. You, as the author, can inhabit the eyes of anyone you choose – don’t forget that.
2. Play with format. If you’re like me and have the relative attention span of a hummingbird, you might find paragraph after paragraph of traditional prose can become stodgy. The page isn’t just where you place down your words – it’s your canvas, and like any artist you’re free to use your canvas unrestricted. Introduce page and line breaks, experiment with sentence fragments and run-on sentences, italicise, use new fonts, use shape to your advantage. A simple change of format can allow your text to breathe, and allow you to gain a new perspective on what’s important, what works, and what doesn’t.
3. Drop a bomb. Whether you plan your stories or not, we’re all constrained to some degree by the looming shadow of the narrative arc. It seeps its way into all stories by virtue of the fact that it is how we tell This is by no means a bad thing, but often stories fall flat once they begin to feel formulaic, driven along by what’s expected of them. If the surprise of what’s going to happen next is gone for you, then it can become a chore to write. Stephen King has said that, when faced with a lull in the writing of The Stand, he decided to literally drop a bomb into the middle of his story, killing several major characters. This upheaval gave his (surviving) characters new traumas, relationships, and perspectives to grapple with, and gave King himself a renewed interest in his own story. Set off the proverbial bomb – introduce a reveal (one that surprises even you), a new and devastating threat, or, when all else fails, kill the dog. The dog never fails.
4. Cut the fat. If your story begins when your protagonist, Martin, comes home, wallows in the loss of his job, pets his dog (his dog which, of course, will die), makes a sandwich from leftover deli meats, has a shower, and then goes out to live his double life as an illegal street racer on the streets of Manchester, consider if all of this information is necessary. Cutting to the meat of the situation – i.e. Martin’s street racing obsession – is often the best bet to keep both your interest and the reader’s. The drudgery of the everyday, whilst it has its place in prose, doesn’t need to constrict you as it does in real life. If you can’t figure out how to make your character’s commute home interesting, it might just be because it’s not that interesting.
5. Abandon linearity. Whilst it’s good to have an idea of what happens, and in what order, linearity isn’t always an author’s best friend. We don’t merely read stories through the order of events presented to us – we read also in terms of theme, character, and voice. Sometimes, these things don’t coincide. Whilst an event may linearly occur at the end of your story, you may find that it’s more thematically appropriate now. Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind is a story told entirely backwards, but which follows a thematic journey for the characters involved, so that we remain invested regardless. Write out the timeline of your piece and, if you’re losing momentum, consider tearing that timeline to shreds. A loss of momentum isn’t the death of a story, it’s only a sign that something needs to change. Thankfully, the only person controlling your story, and thus the only one with the means to exact that change, is you.
J. G. Lynas is a writer who will soon be undertaking a PhD in Literary Practice at the University of Warwick, focused on ‘the New Weird’. He is influenced by the mesmeric works of Jeff VanderMeer, Max Porter, and Shirley Jackson, and writes in the boundaries between the macabre, the weird, and the real, experimenting frequently with form. He owns far too many paisley shirts.
Directed by Sarah Moss, the Warwick Writing Programme at University of Warwick prides itself in having writing staff who not only teach but are also published authors involved in the writing industry and literary scenes. It has just opened an exciting PhD programme in Creative Writing (https://goo.gl/3pdiB9) alongside its internationally recognised flagship BA and MA programmes.
For more on the Warwick Writing Programme: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/writingprog/