Friday, August 12, 2022

How Writers Can Effectively Fight the Issue of Story Stall

by MaryAnn Diorio @DrMaryAnnDiorio

If you've been writing fiction for any length of time, you have very likely experienced what I call "Story Stall." What is story stall? Besides being a tongue-twister :), story stall is a stop in the forward motion of your story while you are writing it. It is the point in your story where you get stuck and cannot move forward. Some people call this writer's block. In my opinion, story stall—like writer's block—is, at its root, nothing more than the symptom of a story problem. 

Most, if not all, writers experience story stall at one time or another. But when we do, it is not a reason to fear. It is a reason to re-evaluate. 

When you get stuck in the writing of your story, your subconscious is trying to tell you there's a problem and that you need to stop and take care of it before the problem worsens. 

So, what can we do to overcome story stall?

1. Pay attention to it. Consider story stall a signal, like pain, that is warning you of a problem that needs to be addressed. Ignoring story stall will not make the problem go away. On the contrary, it will only exacerbate it.

2. Re-evaluate your character's goal and motivation. Usually, when we are stuck in a story, the reason is that we do not know our character well enough. We may not be clear on our character's goal or motivation. Or we may not have discovered the lie our character believes. Or we may not have dug deeply enough into our character's soul to discover his worst fear or his greatest dream. When we don't know our characters well, we don't know how they will react or respond to situations in our story. Hence, we get stuck. Our story stalls. 

So, we can ask ourselves the following questions when re-evaluating our character:
  • What does my character really want? 
  • Why does she want it?
  • What fear keeps her from getting what she wants?
  • What lie does he believe that is hindering him from achieving his goal? 
  • What change does she have to make to get what she wants?
  • How can I, as the author, best create a logical sequence of cause-and-effect events to ensure that my character's growth arc is realistic and that my story moves forward in a psychologically satisfying way?
3. Is your character's motivation congruent with your plot? For example, your plot may require that your character engage in a certain activity, but that activity is not something your character would engage in. Your subconscious mind knows this and will not allow you to violate logic by taking your character in that direction. So, your story stalls, warning you that you need to make your character's motivation congruent with your plot. 

At the same time, if your character does something "out of character," that very action could provide a surprise twist in your story, thereby revealing an even deeper aspect of your character that will intrigue your reader. The important thing to remember is always to maintain the cause-and-effect logic of your story. Doing so fortifies the credibility of your story and preserves your reader's trust. 

4. Is your choice of setting the right one for your story? Your choice of tense? Your choice of person? Sometimes the setting, the tense, or the person is the culprit in story stall. For example, I may set my story in the wilds of Africa when its true home is the mountains of Brazil. Or I may write my story in third person when first person best fits the story. Or I may write my story in past tense when present tense is the tense that resonates most. 

Bottom Line
There is a cure for story stall. That cure is getting to know your characters as intimately as you can and then trusting God to guide you as you create the story of His heart.


MaryAnn Diorio writes riveting fiction from a small, quaint Victorian town in southern New Jersey where the neighbors still stop to chat while walking their dogs, the houses still sport wide, wrap-around front porches, and the charming downtown still finds kids licking lollipops and old married couples holding hands. A true Jersey girl, MaryAnn is a big fan of Jersey diners, Jersey tomatoes, and the Jersey shore. You can learn more about MaryAnn at


  1. Great advice. Steven James said one way to get past the stalling is to think of what would logically occur next, then write it, and then if it’s a suspense novel then consider what would knock the socks off the reader if this happened and make that happen next.

    1. Great advice from a master storyteller! Thank you for sharing. :)

  2. I get story stall in nearly every book I write. I just have to stop, brainstorm the next part, then I'm off again. I'm a cross between a plotter and a pantster. Rachel Hauck called it a planster. I plan the first part, then let the characters take over. But I never know the middle until I get there.

    1. I hear you, Ane. I tend to be a "plantster" myself. I'm finding, however, that the more I get to know my character before beginning to write, the easier it is to write the story. At the same time, part of the joy of writing fiction is the discovery of one's character along the way.

      Bottom line, each writer has his or her own best way of dealing with story stall. I like that you enjoy the surprise element of writing a story. That's a big part of the fun of writing fiction. You are in good company. :)

      Thanks so much for your valued input. :)

  3. Story Stall... that's a great way to describe it. I'm slowly learning to recognize the stall and be patient with myself when it happens.

    1. Thanks for your input, Michelle. You are wise in being patient with yourself. All of us go through a learning curve. If you're like me, that learning curve seems to be never-ending. :) Blessings on your writing!