12 Ways to Stay Interested in a Story

How many failed ideas do you have lying around your desktop? Why didn’t they make the cut? I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember but I’ve only really finished a handful of stories. It’s taken a good bit of trial and error, but by looking at what NOT to do, I’ve managed to come up with a list of how to stay interested in a story once you’ve started writing.

Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres

Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres

Top 10 ways to stay interested in a story

1. Write it down

This seems like a no brainer but it’s a big one for me personally. I have idea after idea; I fill my head with a story and write it from start to finish without ever putting pen to paper, then I get bored with it and it never gets written. It’s not that I love these unfinished stories any less, it’s just that I was finished with it long before I typed the first word. If you have an awesome idea, great, but do your best to only work on it when you’re physically writing your thoughts down. Come up with another little story to distract you when you aren’t able to work on the real one. If you can draw, draw one of the scenes you’ve already written out. Write character profiles, whatever it takes, just DO NOT write the story in your head.

2. Choose characters with interesting personalities and motivations

No Mary Sues! It’s easy to make a character a Mary Sue, but your story will definitely not thank you for it. The tragic backstory, too perfect to be real personality, and everyone falling in love with her the second they lay eyes on her is fun to imagine for us hopeless romantics, but putting one of these in your story is the nail in its coffin. Just be sure you don’t swing too far the other way and make your main character completely unrelatable. Make your character interesting to write about and read about. Make them react in interesting ways and give them imperfect relationships with their co-stars. In my opinion, the characters are the most important part of a story, so spend as much time as necessary fleshing them out and giving them their own life. It worked for Stephanie Meyer, but I would avoid characters like Bella from Twilight where she was really just a faceless shell for the reader to insert herself into.

3. Have just the right amount of minor characters

The “right” number of minor characters is different for every writer and every story, but no matter what, do not let your minor characters crowd out the plot with sheer numbers. If you have a cast of a hundred, your story is going to be 100 times as long as a cast of one, because you now have to give ample screen time to every single character because you love them so much. If you’re aiming to be the next George R. R. Martin go for it, but when thinking on a smaller scale the fewer characters, the easier it is to actually have a finished product.

4. Let it develop naturally

Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, a story will develop a life of its own and start writing itself for you. It may or may not be going in the direction you had originally planned but, honestly, it’s better to go along with it. The plot you had lined up may have been absolute gold, but if it’s not going in that direction, the best way to keep it alive is to go where it really wants to. It will probably be better in the end anyway. Similarly, sometimes (despite our best efforts in step 2) a character just doesn’t do it for you – probably because you’ve made another character much more interesting than your main shell protagonist. If a character takes over, let them – odds are trying to stay on your main character will bore you to death anyway.

5. Have a detailed setting

While it’s not a deal breaker, a good setting can help a stalled story get traction again. Nothing to write about? If you know where you are, you have a ready-made side plot just sitting there. You have a world/country/city/kingdom to bend to your will, so help yourself and your story out and use it.

6. Have a clear idea of where the plot is headed

There’s nothing worse than coming up with the idea of the century, having amazing character, a fantastic new universe you made especially for it, and finding 50 pages in that you aren’t really sure what you brought your cast together for. It doesn’t matter how perfect everything else is, if you don’t have a plot – and a GOOD one at that – your story isn’t getting past first base. Be absolutely certain that you have a detailed story line, it doesn’t even have to be written down, before you start writing or you’ll find yourself writing in circles.

7. Have it mean something

You’ll be more motivated if you have something real and personal driving your story. Is it a story about escape from a metaphorical cage? Is it a coming of age story about finding yourself? Is it a journey where the destination is nothing more than knowledge? Why does you story matter? Make it more than skin deep and you and anyone who reads it will love it that much more.

8. Don’t stew over minor details and wording, they’re not worth it

Don’t let your story come to a standstill because you couldn’t decide what color dress your main character was going to wear to the party. If dress color mattered that much, you would have already known what she should wear so just pick a color and keep writing. I once had a Harry Potter story brought to its knees because I couldn’t come up with the perfect name for one of my major characters. That story probably had one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, and it died because I couldn’t decide between Evan and Darren. How dumb is that? Don’t let that happen to you. Just pick a name and if you hate it that much you can change it at the end.

9. Save the editing for the end

If you’re on a roll keep rolling. Don’t stop to correct spelling errors or change around sentence structure. Sure that matters in the end, but when you’re trying to get your thoughts written out which verb you used three pages ago needs to take a backseat to the real story. This is the beauty of NaNoWriMo, if you want that book finished in a month, you don’t have time for minor details and you’ll be more likely to get it done. Once you’ve typed the end, go back and edit for as long as you like. Many a story has died because I kept going back and rewording the first few pages when I still had ideas for the part I was really on.

10. Go somewhere new

Sometimes a change in scenery is all you need to get the creativity flowing again. Somewhere not too busy but with new sights, noises, and smells can change your whole attitude toward your project and give you all new inspiration.

11. Don’t force it

Know when it’s time to call it. Sometimes that defibrillator is just too late. If it’s dead, it’s dead.

12. Write it in the order people will read it in

This one is up for debate. I’ve heard of people writing chapters from all over their books in all different random orders and that may work for you, but it’s going on my list because I’ve tried that and had it ruin books. I think linearly, so if my mind is already that far ahead AND I give in and decide to go write that, the part I was on is dead. This may work for you and more power to you if it does, but I would not recommend it.

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