Diagnosing a problem story can be … well, a problem.
How to Know if you have a Problem Story
If someone asks you this mucho important question, and you are unable to answer it without a lot of “ums,” “ahs,” and a bucketload of background information – then, you have a problem story. It’s time to take a timeout, and figure out what the story is all about. You need to tease the threads apart and decide:
1. Who is your main character? It should always be the most interesting character in the novel; the one with the major problem; and the one who has the most to lose
2. Does your protagonist have a major problem? If she doesn’t, your story will go nowhere. That, my little chickadees, is what your novel is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about the heroine facing a major obstacle, jumping over a buttload of hurdles, and racing to the finish line ahead of the opposition that is doing everything to block her from getting to the end, achieving her goals, and getting to live happily ever after.
3. What is the plot? A plot is the individual events that takes the hero from his inciting incident (which kickstarts the hero’s journey) to the climax (where he achieves his objective and gets what he deserves) and finally to the denouement or satisfactory ending.
4. Conflict is at the center of every good novel. Without it to drive the plot, your story will meander, your characters will be flat, and your story lacklustre. That’s why an inciting incident is so important at the start of your novel. It provides the hero with conflict immediately, and spurs him on, keeps him focused, and motivates him to continue to the end so he can win his prize.
5. If your story has so many sub-plots, twists and turns, that you cannot identify the main thread, then once again, you have a problem. All sub-plots need to link to the main in some way. If they don’t, ditch them.
The best way to fix your problem is to let your ego take a hike. Join a critiquing group, or a writing class with an instructor or coach you trust, and be prepared to write, write, and write some more.