What To Do When Your Story Dies

Don’t panic. It may have only lost consciousness.

Image for post
Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

We’ve all been there haven’t we? That terrible sinking feeling. A heated flush of panicked sweat when we believe our story has just died.

It passed on to commune with angelic scribes in the heavens.

The story just kicked the inkwell.

It suffered a massive word stroke.

You get the point.

First, things first. Let’s perform a little triage before we call the coroner.

Checking for a pulse

Where should we start? Here’s a novel (pun intended) idea. Let’s start at the opening chapter. Did you write an opening which captivates the reader so much they’re instantly drawn into the story?

Or did you bury the lead?

(Again, pun intended)

If the start of your story is well, meh, but shows some merit, your story probably has a pulse. If after reading the opening and the first chapter you can’t feel a thing then maybe you should be on the phone right now with the coroner.

If your story has no pulse I’d suggest you start thinking about another body of work you can pal around with.

But let’s be optimistic and say your story still has a pulse. Okay it’s not dead. It’s just unconscious. Yeah, the pulse is shallow and thready but you can definitely feel it.

Okay, that’s a relief right?

But you should be concerned still, because the fact your story has a weak pulse may be a sign it has even bigger issues to tackle. Okay, so let’s see if we can get the pulse a little stronger before we continue.

Rework that opening and if necessary the entire first chapter. We’re simply trying to stabilize the patient here first. So don’t try to throw a ton of curatives by rewriting the whole story at the get go.

However, as part of your initial triage you may have to perform some minor surgery to get the pulse stronger. You may end up having to cut away a ton of deadwood infecting your story in order to make it better. You may even have to install a shunt or two to keep the life blood of your work flowing.

Yeah I know. The fact you’re forced to remain in ER for what seems like forever is grinding on your last nerve.

But we’re here to keep your story alive remember? Keep irrigating those incision points and stitching the chain of events back together until the opening and the entire first chapter reads as smooth as a newborn’s ass.

Now go back to the beginning and check the opening pulse of your story.


Read the entire first chapter.

Is the pulse stronger and more steady?

It is?

Damn, you’re a regular Meredith Grey ain’t ya?

Corrective Surgery

But you know your story still has a long way to go before it’s out of the woods. As the brilliant surgeon writer you are, replete with a stunning bedside manner, you check in on your patient as it languishes in the recovery room. You wait long enough for it to awake and as its eyes flutter open you offer it a smile and a comforting pat.

Image for post
Photo by JAFAR AHMED on Unsplash

You welcome it back to the land of the living, but you’re quick to mention there may be several corrective surgeries you will need to perform in order to restore it to total health.

It nods in acceptance. It trusts you now. You’ve brought it back from unconsciousness. It’s willing to put its life in your hands.

You leave the recovery room thinking of the surgical procedures you’ll need to perform to bring the story back to a full recovery. You shake your head hoping it’s strong enough to handle it, telling yourself there’s a chance something could go wrong. Reminding yourself it’s entirely possible you could lose it on the table.

But you’re a masterful surgeon writer. This wouldn’t be the first story you’ve brought back from near death. Doctor Strange can’t hold a candle to you.

Besides your malpractice is paid up for the month.

You stare at your fingers. They’re steady as a rock.

Time to scrub up and get the show on the road.

Let’s keep in touch: paul@pgbarnett.com

Written by

A published author enjoying married Texas bliss. Dog person living with cats. A writer of Henry James' stories. Featured In MuckRack. Top Writer In Fiction.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store