Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Utter Silence

Perhaps if I talk about this, it will work itself out.  And perhaps, if you're dealing with the same thing, things will work out for you, too.

It's the I-can't-write-this-plot-for-the-life-of-me syndrome.  And it's VERY. BAD.

Here's the thing.  We have to keep writing, keep going.  Right?  In those in between places, it's especially important--at least for me--to have something warm on my plate.  ("Between" as in "between the other things that are going on".  Anything from waiting to hear from crit partners on a recent revision, to waiting for the next sub round with editors, to waiting for anything you can possibly think of. Because at least fifty percent of a writer's life consists of waiting.)

So, in my "between place", I've been working on a YA SF.  I've got characters I already like, a setting I'm happy with, and a premise that makes me think, Yeah. This is cool. This could really work.  Good stuff, yes?

Alas. I can't plot it to save my life.  I've worked it from every angle you can imagine -- raw beat-sheeting, logline, backstory scenes, scenes from the novel, trying to come up with an ending, planning a single chapter--I HAVE DONE IT ALL.

And I still don't have a story.

This has thrust me into a sort of writerly crisis.  When I wake up and the day snaps into focus, I remember that I am unable to plot my story, and a sinkhole opens.  As in, here we go again.  I'll waste my writing time staring, checking Twitter, and typing admonishments to myself.

No, really.  Want to see something straight out of my Scrivener notes?

(Okay. I'm bracing myself for a moment of raw transparency.)

Authoress's Notes to Self:

Know what? I don’t know. I don’t have the foggiest idea.  I thought this war was about disputed space.  Fine.  Then what in the world would be so valuable that ISN’T space, that both sides would destroy the other for it?  And why would EVELYN have it?

Did Evelyn steal it from someone?  If so, who?  Kyung-Soon’s friend-who-remains-nameless?  The Quantum Corporal?  Him?

If so, why did HE have it?

What IS the blasted thing?

In the end, I have no idea. In the end, I suck at plotting. SUCK.  I’m great at developing characters and apparently I’ve got great pacing.  But plots?  No.  This is so hard; so incredibly counter-intuitive for me.  I don’t know why I ever started writing novels in the first place.

You're allowed to laugh.  Or shake your head.  Or cluck your tongue at me.  But, yeah.  This is real; it's where I am.

Well, at least it's where I am with this story.  It's just...well, sucking the life from me.  All the tried-and-true taking a walk or staying completely away from the story to give it space...haven't worked.

Sometimes it's hard not to despair.  Sometimes it's not hard to rethink everything.  Like, why am I doing this to myself?  I can do other things.  There are actually other things in my life that I do.  That I'm good at.  That bring me pleasure.

But this writing thing?  It won't go away.  I need to write. I am never so bereft as when I am not in the midst of breathing life into a story.

What's a gal to do?

I don't know.  What do you do?  Pull out another story?  I don't have those; I'm the one-idea-at-a-time type.  Quit?  I refuse.  Take a break?  Well, yeah....except when you haven't actually written anything, it's hard to justify a break.  What, exactly, is a break from nothing?

So.  There is it.  Authoress's Science Fiction Crisis.  Not even chocolate is helping.

Pouring time and energy into my clients' partials has been a godsend.  It's invigorating to inject creative input into someone else's work--hopefully to his benefit.  And it keeps my brain from atrophying. 

But it's not writing.  So the writing part of my brain is weeping.

Do you have an answer?  Or are you hanging onto the flotsam along with me?  I'm sure we can stay afloat--but I'm not sure when we'll find fresh water.

Please.  Fresh water, someone?


  1. This has happened to me before because I also suck at plotting. Characters, world-building, backstory, no problem. But plotting is my nemesis. What works for me is crazy, no-holds-barred brainstorming - either with my CP (in a coffee shop), my 15yo daughter, or other writer friends. Just give them your premise and have them throw ideas out there. You never know what will stick!

  2. Been there. I highly recommend Lisa Cron's WIRED FOR STORY. It helped me look at my story in a very different way and the fixes to what was bothering me flooded in. Good luck.

  3. Had the same thing happen to me last fall. I had a wonderful character thought up, and my agent was excited about it.

    But I couldn't come up with a story to put her in. Months went by. No story. Felt physically ill each time I opened my computer. No story.

    I finally just put the whole idea out of its misery and switched to a completely different story, and the problem went away. It's not you, it's the story/idea/concept. Sometimes they're just dead.

  4. Oh, I *so* know this feeling! It is the worst. My best advice is to hold your story as 'lightly' as you can in your mind. With so much pressure on yourself (I hear you there!) to find the perfect plot, you could be squeezing your creative self a little too tightly. I would start by taking a break, just to rediscover what you love about your story, and accept that it will take its sweet time, but you WILL get there. It could be the perfect idea, just waiting for the perfect time. Which is a complete pain, I know. Be good to yourself! We're all pulling for you :)

  5. Your "I'm stuck and trying to plot" notes look a lot like mine, and I'm in a real similar place right now. I have an adult cyberpunk where I love the characters and setting and have all the world building and can't seem to form a plot.

    I hate to see anyone else going through it but I'm also glad it's not just me.

  6. You say you already have characters you like... but are they totally and completely fleshed out? Like, do you know every single detail of their hopes and dreams, backstory, which type of chocolate they would choose?? Borrowing from your notes, the "Why would Evelyn have it?" question makes me think that, perhaps, either you've chosen the wrong POV character (I've done that before, and the story stubbornly refused to come together until I switched to a different main character), or you might not know your character as well as you should yet. What does your character want more than anything in the universe? Why can't she have it? What's standing in her way? Now, what does she NEED more than anything else (it may not be the same thing)?? What is she willing to do to get it? Does she even realize what she needs, or is she so focused on what she wants that she'll have to do some growing and learning before she can even acknowledge the true need? Who can she depend on? Does she put her trust in the wrong people?...

    I usually plot my stories by interviewing my characters. Once I find out how they would complete the statement, "I'll truly be happy when..." I can put them on a pothole-filled road to that goal, which may or may not take a severe detour along the way (and which may or may not actually get to that point).

    Good luck!! Hope this helps! :)

  7. Hmm... science fiction is hard. It's harder than fantasy. And it's definitely harder than writing about real life. You not only have to build a world but you need to understand everything in it in a rather realistic way - the science has to be in the ballpark of real.

    Then it sounds like you're writing about very grand things like wars, which are hard to write about even in real life because most of us have not participated, caused, or been caught up in them.

    In other words, writing, plotting, and imagining is hard enough without doing all of that about things that aren't intimately familiar.

    If you don't want to quit and you love the story, then just try to focus the plot on the things that make you shake when you read it in other novels (or when you write). If you love writing interpersonal conflicts, then see if you can focus the plot on that, rather than the impersonal grand things. The grand things can be a backdrop. Maybe it's not about the 'THING' (that you don't know what it is). Most of the time people, even in science fiction, don't want objects for the sake of objects. They want the usual things - love, power. The answer to why someone wants a thing or has a thing is usually because that thing gives them power over something or someone. Or love.

    And yes, I've been there. I wrote an urban fantasy, realized it was too vague, made it into a political thriller, realized it was too grand, and now I finally understand I have to write it from a very very personal point. Simply because I understand it.

    In any case... good luck.

  8. Think of your strengths, not your weaknesses. You said you are good with characters. What if Evelyn IS it? What kind of character would she be? What kind of characters would you need to fight over her?

    Good luck with the writing. We all know you can do it.

  9. May I just say -- you are all wonderful?!

    Veronica -- Awesome questions. Evelyn is not the MC; this is all actually backstory, which has to be solid before I get the story arc. It's so frustrating because I SO don't enjoy writing backstory!

    Emma -- Yeah, the whole war and "grand stuff" is all backstory and backdrop. It has to be solid before I get my story arc solid. And the story arc is not going to be all about the war, though the threat of reigniting it is definitely the consequence my MC wants to avoid.

    I actually find sci/fi easier than fantasy to write, though READING fantasy has always been my number one love. Go figure!

  10. Patchi -- That's brilliant. I'm going to have to spend a lot of time with Evelyn today. :)

  11. Here's a radical idea. Ready? Wing it.

    Just a scene, one little scene. Don't worry about the plot or the ending or anything. Just put two of your characters together and Wing it.

    Maybe it won't work. Maybe you can't really write that way. But maybe, just maybe, it will give you the jump start you need to make progress.

    1. I do this a lot and it works, for me. I write the fun scenes or whatever scene tickles my fancy. Plot is critical, but sometimes just getting your ideas down is more important. Go write some kissing scenes!

  12. I want to hug you. I'm so sorry you're stuck in a plotting pit, Authoress. I completely sympathize. Plots are always the bane of my existence. If they're not meandering, they've got holes. If they don't have holes, they don't make sense. Etc.

    In the sci-fi novel I recently plotted, there's a prisoner of war camp, basically, that is doing a Terrible Thing to its prisoners. But I couldn't figure out what the Terrible Thing would be. For ... what, weeks? It felt like months. I sat around and tried to think of Something Terrible. (More terrible than genocide, which is essentially what's occurring outside the camp.) Zip. Nada. Huge hole, and I couldn't write a word because of it.

    Honestly, I got there by trying to up the stakes as much as humanly possible. I seized the first random horrific thing I could think of, plotted with that substituted in, knowing that I'd need to replace it with something that made more sense from all perspectives. And once I'd managed to get something like a synopsis down for the whole thing, it was way easier to isolate the clunky parts and find parts that fit better. As for the element I'd substituted -- the character arcs and motivations framed one Terrible Thing as making far more sense, so I gouged out the other one and put in the right one.

    It's demoralizing to write a bad plot and know you're writing a bad plot. Because of ... well, you know, logic, your mind says, HEY NO STOP THAT. But a bad plot is a stepping stone to a better place just as much as a shitty first draft cries out for key revisions. I know a lot of people see the whole story like a path that drops in front of them easy as anything, but for those of us that don't have that good fortune, we've just got to fight for something okay so we can turn it into something great. And sometimes, if you just start writing a normal day for the characters with small, normal, character-specific actions (in other words, a bad starting place for the novel), they'll reveal larger motivations that are in conflict with each other, and thus a plotty starting point.

    In any case, I hope you feel better about it soon. <3 An authoress should be authoring, and I hope you can get back to it ASAP so you can be AHAP (as happy as possible).


  13. I'm in a bit of writerly angst myself, so I can sympathize. I don't know if this will help you, but I find it fun to read There's a long section on plots that's fun to read through. There are also lists of Overused Sci Fi Storylines (four sections of those). It might spark an idea.

    Good luck!

  14. Actually, you've done what I usually do when I hit a wall - talk it out with someone. I go to a beta or a crit partner and talk through where I am. Sometimes the smallest comment on their part will unlock where to go.

    Keep at it!

  15. I just wanted to say thank you are being transparent. It's encouraging to see people further along the journey struggle with the same things I do.

    My idea would be similiar to Jeff's. Why not add a bit of NaNoWriMo spirit? Just write and see what happens. Drafts can be a search for story.

    Best of luck to you!

  16. I totally know this feeling! For me, it's not as easy to look at it in such a way, because I'm not a huge plotter anyway. For me, I get the idea, keep it in my brain, then once I *see* the whole of it (or at least the skeleton) I start actually writing it down.

    The thing is, though, sometimes stories sit in my brain FOR MONTHS before I can get any idea of what the story IS. And it's very frustrating (I'm doing it right now with a WIP, actually) because I'll have time, and I'll be waiting on something else, and I'll need something to do with myself, but I end up just sitting daydreaming about the story and only occasionally jotting down a note. Or, I start to write, only to realize something isn't quite what I want, and I start rearranging the story in my head again to solve the issue. Meanwhile, I'm not getting it on paper.

  17. You know, I was just having this very problem, though to a slightly lesser degree. (I'm a more than one thing at a time type of person.) I had a serendipitous moment in the form of this blog post in my google reader: It really helped with both clarifying the MS I'm revising and detailing the story I'm drafting. Don't know if it'll help you, too, but it's worth a shot. In the meantime, (((hugs))). You can do this.

  18. Authoress: Likewise, I echo everyone's sentiments and strongly related to your dilemma and angst. THANKS for sharing your dark moments, my gosh, it's reassuring to know we're not alone.

    Plotting has always eluded me. I feel like I'm in the remedial class on plotting, DUNCE hat on my head, (OR) put-putting in my Model T while my writer friends easily soar past me and ink deals.

    What helped me with plotting? Last year, I took a great course by Susan Meier called, "Can This Manuscript Be Saved?" Wonderful class. Here is how I'm trying to work now, so I don't derail (because I lose notecards, I can't think, 'and then this happens,' I can't plot to save my life). Using Susan's techniques, I fashion a plotline first. This gives me huge headaches at first, and I pull out my hair. I work with a weak one at first. I am not sure my ADD-addled brain could handle Schrievner, (sp) so I developed a weird basic outlining system in PowerPoint. I use my plotline (one single sentence, which combines the internal conflict with the external goal of the lead character) -- and steer every rough chapter toward it, ensuring I have mega GMC and conflict. Now I'm worried that my story will seem 'forced,' but my gut tells me that I'll stay on course and can work out the kinks after the Horrible Completely Revolting Gag-Worthy First Draft. My first drafts are so hideous, that when I hide it under the bed, the dust bunnies try to torch it.

    Ann Lamott writes in "Bird by Bird" that she feels plodding and slow, and imagines other writers sailing along, typing as fast as court reporters. I laughed so hard at that one, because I get so low and demoralized at times -- and imagine other writers skipping around their laptops, tossing bon mots and flower petals, tra-la-laing, telling themselves how brilliant and wonderful they are, whereas I grumble and wonder, "WHY am I continuing this TORTURE? And of course, you've already answered it, we write because we must, because we can't stop.

    See if you can stop "forcing" an answer, allow yourself to relax. I'm finding my subconscious 'lets loose' when I stop forcing ideas. Very hard to stop this when I'm stressed and desperate. Seems to work.

    Hang in there, you will find your answers.

  19. Throw it to the crowd! That's why we're here, right? Writers helping each other out? Heck, you could even do it as a MSFV group activity -- have X number of people stuck on a character name/project title/plot point, etc. give a sentence about what they're looking for, and folks can offer suggestions in the comments.

    Or, of course, you could try the shower. I get so many ideas in there I'm about to set up a desk in the bathroom. :)

  20. I'm agreeing with Jeff and Ted. I know you're not a pantser, but sometimes all the planning in the world can't help you be ready for something (and this can literally apply to ANYTHING, let alone writing a story). Sometimes you don't know what's going to happen until you're literally right there right then; in that moment. I mean, you've clearly done all you can POSSIBLY do to try to prepare for this story. Now go and see what happens when you put what you have to life. It might become very obvious what's supposed to happen when the other pieces of the story are truly living and breathing.
    And, of course, if it doesn't work, at least you tried, right? OR, if it doesn't feel quite right, you can always change things when you discover the right path later (which you WILL).

  21. I'm also a one book-at-a-time kind of writer and I recently put one down and started another. I rushed to finish the first one, plot being the driving force. I didn't want to do the same with the next. To change things up, I decided not to write the story on my ipad, and instead to write it in my journal. I'm taking my time and putting more emphasis on the prose, getting to know the characters, and then I'll go back and add in all the plot points and put the story together in Pages.

    Maybe you could try writing on paper if you normally write on the computer, or write standing up if you normally sit down. Write after a workout, so your adrenaline is pumping. I'm a newbie, really, so my advice doesn't count for much, but I'm giving you what I've got because I want you to succeed.

  22. These comments are great.! I never knew it but now I think I will be an addict. Thanks for the post!

  23. You need three things for a successful plot: A character with an overwhelming goal, a caustic environment to drop them in, and a life-changing event to get the show on the road.

    It sounds to me like you don't know Evelyn's motivations well enough. Why don't you try writing a bit of the back story as a short or flash piece?

    Why don't you try sticking her in something absurd like a star wars scene and seeing how she reacts--get to know her needs and desires.

    Why don't you try writing a couple scenes you know are going to be in the book and then come back to the plot?

    It's okay to pants first and plot later; it doesn't have to be one or the other.

    It may seem a waste, but it's really just a form of research--exploration and definition of your characters.

  24. I've been in that spot, and I have my pages of 'I suck so much' to prove it.

    You're a one-idea-at-a-time person. Fine. Try being a two-ideas-at-a-time for a bit, if you have any other ideas. Trying to ignore what's bothering you may get rid of it, so everything falls in place in one beautiful 'click'.

    I'm not far enough along in my own process to have outside deadlines, which you might. Have you tried backtracking? I don't work in Scrivener-- it drives me nuts, I tried once-- but I've gone back, two or three thousand words, to the last spot I didn't have trouble... and done something different. And the story's worked again.

    Another tactic? Sentence. One sentence every day. Every day, read over everything you have, then add just the one sentence that seems like it comes next. It's really low-pressure, but the repetition of what you have, of what's been established, may pound something through that you weren't seeing before.

    The last tactic is to ask questions. Grab a critique partner, one who hasn't read the story, and start talking about everything you have in detail, and ask them to ask as many questions as they can think of. I've been the questioner, and the questionee. Sometimes, all it takes is another person asking 'X is king, but not a noble? How?' or something else that seems obvious to you for everything to unravel.

    I hope this helps.

  25. Authoress, I'm so sorry this is happening to you. I have the opposite problem because my plotting is great, it's developing characters that can be my greater challenge.

    My go-to theme from which my backstories spring is almost always family. Sounds simple, but as we all know, families are far from simple. Tangle up your characters' lives in family issues and I can practically guarantee you'll find your answer to why both sides are willing to risk total annihilation.

    Your next step is to talk it out. Kind of like you're doing here, but it would be best to get together with other writers in person or on skype. Example: A writer friend was in desperate need of plotting help, so a bunch of my fellow local writer pals gathered around her Monday night and we revved the plot engine for almost 3 hours. My out-of-town friend got just what she needed to piece together a fabulous plot. Teamwork can be an amazing tool for us solitary writers.

    Good luck!


  26. If you write it, they will come.

    Just go on and start. Write the damn thing. It has yet to reveal its magical self to you and the only way one can get to "there" from "here".. is to write.
    (Bummer...I know.)
    ~Just Jill

  27. Thank you for sharing this with us. It is encouraging to know that others go through it too! Not so encouraging when you're in the middle of The Suck, but still. Don't lose heart. I wrote half of my current WIP before I knew the plot. And then it finally came to me, after days of pushing forward without knowing anything. Yes, a lot of that writing I'll have to throw out, but some of it is good. I learned a lot about my characters, and I think that's why the plot finally presented itself.

    I also recommend having your characters write letters to each other. I'm not sure where I picked up that tip, but it always reveals something new. Like me, my characters tend to be more forthcoming in writing than in 'person.' ;) Good luck!

  28. I agree with Karen Duvall.
    Get some fresh eyes and ears on what you have so far.
    Sometimes, a person who isn't so close to the project can better see how it all needs to fit together.
    I'm sure you would have a long list of people who would like to help.
    I like plotting. I'd even look at what you have.
    Good luck.

  29. Okay, so I couldn't resist responding to this one, and you're probably going to hate my answer because it involves more of that "waiting". I, too, had a sci-fi story that wasn't working, oh like, five years ago. I dropped the quest to write it, because it just wasn't working. Then I went to a seminar last autumn and had a eureka moment that involved changing the whole point of view. Sometimes those eureka moments take a long time, and you just can't rush them. Your brain will know when the story's ready. Thanks for being honest about this all being such hard work.

  30. Okay, so I couldn't resist responding to this one, and you're probably going to hate my answer because it involves more of that "waiting". I, too, had a sci-fi story that wasn't working, oh like, five years ago. I dropped the quest to write it, because it just wasn't working. Then I went to a seminar last autumn and had a eureka moment that involved changing the whole point of view. Sometimes those eureka moments take a long time, and you just can't rush them. Your brain will know when the story's ready. Thanks for being honest about this all being such hard work.

  31. when I have a really cool idea and a sense of who the characters are, but I don't know what the plot is, I try to think of all the plot elements I like to see in a book. my favorite plot elements. plot elements I'd want to write, that make me excited when I read them. then I try to fit them into the framework of my story with a bunch of "what if" questions.

  32. Oh, Authoress :( What a sucky place to be. I second Wired for Story. It's been super helpful.

    I am also a one-story-at-a-time writer so I get it. Could it be that this story you're working on is going to require a longer incubation period than others you've written? Sometimes I need a story to sit for months in my subconscious before I'm ready to tackle it.

    Maybe your process is evolving. Writing prompts always help me when I'm incubating. One a day for as long as it takes. You can do it!

  33. You've done such a wonderful thing in unleashing all these helpful thoughts!

    I am with you in the plotting department. It's easy for me to say what my individual character arc needs to be. Where he and/or she begins, in terms of development, and where he ends. But a good middle demands a strong external plot to force character growth.

    One question: could the THING worth fighting for be the opposite of what your protagonist wants most?

  34. I'm a white board gal, myself, and when I hit a wall (figuratively, of course), I break out my markers and write notes in big, colorful letters. Then I sit in my chair, stare at the white board and talk aloud to myself. Something about the colors (and possibly the fumes...) mixed with the one-sided conversation seems to loosen whatever gunk is jamming my creative process. Having notes in color up on the wall also forces me to literally see my story from a different perspective. It helps me think outside whatever box I put myself into. Good luck!

  35. Although you've given us permission to laugh, I'm SO not laughing. I've been in this situation for about five months. I have a story, but there are big logic flaws in it. When I fix one, other parts then don't make sense. I've also switched the mc's personality back and forth, but I'm still struggling with her backstory, goal, and arc. It just won't mesh with the plot. Gaaahh!! It's so very frustrating. I've never had this problem before.

    Lost in Plotland

  36. I too have been there. When this happens I find that it's because I don't know answers. So it's time to go looking for answers. Start talking to your characters. Start with the easy stuff first and then start grilling them. Try talking to a couple of them and just start writing what tell you. Pit one against the other and find out if someone isn't telling the whole story. This kind of interaction inevitably leads to things heating up and the story moving forward.

    Good Luck.

  37. Maybe try blogging/diary writing from your main character's perspective. Or just freewrite from your character's pov. What's he or she thinking about right now? What's on her mind? let him/her speak on the page-- and maybe the story will evolve from what he/she wants.

    I usually use GMC: Goal, Conflict and Motivation, to figure out my plots. What does your main character want? Why? And why can't they get it?

    Not sure that helps-- just my 2 cents.

  38. I have the same problem with a story I started a while back. I love the characters but am just not sure where it's going yet. I like Eliza's idea of writing some fun scenes in the meantime. Every so often I go back to mine and write another scene, or a new character idea. Often I mull it over in my head. I think patience is the key: something will come to you and when it does it'll start flowing again! :-)

  39. I loved Patchi's idea, too. A special person as treasure, like Helen the face that launched a thousand ships. Of course there could be a lot more to your character than beauty. Yay for crowdsourcing as a cure for writer's block!

  40. Thanks for being so open, Authoress. I'm just starting a new WIP and trying to nail down my plot too.

    There are some great suggestions here! Like Karen, I find when I consider how a character's family fits into the mix, it can be really helpful. Motivations usually become clearer and often a lot more.

  41. Hugs, Authoress. Brainstorming works for me, and it doesn't have to be within your writer community (my dad and my best friend are both great at coming up with new twists -- and fixing plot holes). BTW, the first "thing" that came to mind about your wip's necessary "thing" is an oxygen/water synthesizer. Perhaps your mc has been given special crystals needed to create quantities of water and/or air out of very few available elements, or she breathes out oxygen instead of CO2 and the authorities want to harvest her body and clone her. Okay, maybe not that, but one idea can lead to another. : )

  42. I'm with JeffO. Don't plot, just write. I can't plot any further than the existence of point a and point z. I just write. And then I'm so totally amazed even if I didn't intentionally create a fully plotted story that all the little pieces are there and it's like Christmas going back to edit and hook them all together.
    Good luck!

  43. Hey, I've been dealing with similar things with my 2nd draft of my SF (adult, though, not YA). I mostly have my plot hashed out, but I've got all my little worries over worldbuilding and moments of panic where I worry over my lack of physics background and whether I'm making it realistic/logical enough. That's progress for me, because a lot of my worries used to be mostly over the plot itself.

    Anyway, I'll second/third/fourth/whatever we're on now about hashing things out with other people. I wound up sending my critique partner a modified beat sheet that included my big scenes, but also little notes about things that needed to happen to get to those big scenes. It helped to get another opinion about whether what I'd planned out was workable/the right direction.

    As to how I got there, though? Lots and lots of walking and freewriting. Most of my plot problems are not solved in front of the computer. They're solved outside while I go for a walk and ruminate about my plot (or even something else), or when I handwrite in my journal. I don't freewrite by my computer. Just being there when I'm having problems can make things worse. Purely emotional, but there you go.

    These freewriting sessions usually start with me complaining about whatever I'm having problems with. If I give it a solid half hour or more, I find I often come to some sort of a solution, or at least a possibility. I've tried freewriting on the computer (because I wanted my fingers to be able to keep up with my thoughts) but it has never, never worked for me the way handwriting in a journal does. I would love to see an EEG of my brain during typing vs. handwriting, because it seems that somehow, handwriting gets the "idea part" of my brain going better than typing.

    Also, to add another recommended read, you might pick up Maass' WRITING 21ST CENTURY FICTION. It actually gets a lot into the "pantser" vs. "plotter" aspect, with suggested questions for both to improve the story. As a recovering pantser, I found it immensely helpful.

  44. I had to laugh -- but only because I've been there. My rough drafts are filled with notes such as "Agh, why one earth would he do that!" "STUPID idea!" etc. My only suggestions - free write making scenes with the characters every day and stop worrying about the plot for a while; it might come from your subconscious when you're not looking. And daydream listening to music. Wish I could be more help! Good luck. And thanks for sharing.

  45. Sugar before bed. Crazy dreams can sometimes lead to great ideas and since your mind is on your project so much, you may just dream up something. There is already alot of good advice here so that is my extra two cents.

  46. I see you already have a million suggestions, BUT I don't think anyone mentioned this one. : )

    When I'm stuck in my writing--whether it's on character, setting, plot, whatever--I watch movies. My subconscious mind starts dialoguing with what's on the screen, and pretty soon, my own ideas become clearer.

    Movie plots are usually so visible to writers. Maybe it could help to know which direction to go or NOT to go in.

  47. Ack. I have confidence you will come out of this funk before I do. I have been having this dilemma for, well, WAY too long. A very, very long time. I am a two project at a time kind of gal, and so while I have written a novel with a friend and we are now doing a second round of edits, the ENTIRE time we have been working, I have started THREE new story ideas and haven't been able to see any of them through. I am worried I never will again. So, your woes today have helped me to see that I am not alone. Let us know when you find an answer and move on with the SF or something else! Christy

  48. First off - i'll offer a shoulder.

    But I can tell you this one thing, after seeing you edit my stories first 3 chapters, I don't have a doubt in my mind that you're going to pull through this.

    It's the hardest part of a being a writer, coming up with a convincing story. But I can't stress how strongly I feel that this feeling will be gone before you know it.

    But as you can see from all these responses, you have an entire community to lean on. We're here for you!

    Vent away!

  49. I wish I could give you a hug. I know that dark place. I know all about it.

    If you're really after ideas, well, there's a war. There are exactly two reasons anyone ever goes to war. Ready for it: Power and the right to procreate (be it actual children or the spread of ideas which are like children). This means that Evelyn has something that threatens someones power or their ability to procreate. Depending on what's going on, she could have a genetic mutation that allows her to naturally heal some space pox that's ravaged all the worlds of the Vorlon quadrant. Until they can figure out why her blood heals people, both factions want her to save their planets.

    Or she could be a genetic carrier for something like telepathy. She herself won't break out in it, but if she were to bred with someone who did...

    Well, they're silly ideas, but I really hope you come out of this without beating yourself up too much.

  50. Walking? Exercise? Paint a room? Clean a closet? Sometimes ideas pop into my head when I'm not sitting at the computer, but I'm still working. It's not a break, it's a plotting and scheming phase.

    There were 50 comments, I'm sure other people have suggested that. I do think plotting time away from the computer is wise at this point though. Get a notebook and a pen and get out of your office.

    You're welcome here anytime :)

  51. When I get stuck I usually turn to my notebook. Scrivener is my space to be organised, my notebook is my place to be unorganised. I use my notebook for all my initial brainstorming, but I also use it to journal my way out of trouble. I'll put a heading like, 'what do I know so far?' or 'what do I know about [whatever]' and just write. Usually it helps me to see my way clear in a way that other, more logical methods don't.

    Awhile ago I was getting really stressed about a big revision I was doing on my novel. It felt like I was never going to fix all my gaping plot holes and I was working myself into a state. A friend in the airforce told me about some advice he had been given re: his parachute - when you get into trouble and struggle you just panic more. When you take a moment to be calm you figure things out quicker.

    Good luck!

  52. I wish I had time to read everyone's comments because I'm sure I'd learn some good tips.

    Have you actually started writing this thing yet? I always reach a point with my outlines and preparation where I get stuck until I actually start writing. And then about 10 or 20k into it, I can start plotting again, figuring out the bigger picture.

    What I dread most of all: when you've plotted something you think at least is an adequate framework, but 30 or 40k into writing it, you realize it's JUST. NOT. WORKING. And all the methods for fixing the plot problems aren't working.

    In that case I've had to shelve it and start working on something else. So far I have had other things to work on, older works I shelved for similar reasons, but now seem ready to work on.

    Maybe you could write random scenes, or do writing exercises, in the meantime? Write ANYTHING. Get a copy of Writing Down the Bones - you can't NOT read that book and be inspired in someway!!!

  53. The problem with mental blockages is lack of imagination and perspective. We, as writers, as people, get stuck in a creative (or life)rut without realizing we have done so. The beautiful thing about writing is that ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is possible. Make your story more than just about "space" or "war." Take your mind beyond your usual thought processes and use what you find there. (I hope this all makes sense and isn't coming off like the nebulous advise you'd find in a fortune cookie!)

  54. Research is the solution for me. Nothing gets the juices flowing better than discovering or being reminded about something cool. You might find just the gadget or scientific phenomenon that makes the story fall into place.

  55. *Hugs!*

    Feeling stuck sucks! Big time! I stink at plotting and outlining. I prefer to pantster my way right through the plot - but I'm now trying to decide how to fix those problems said pantsting caused *sigh* I'm trying to outline/change the plot to make it stronger (it needs it!) and trying out all the plotting/outlining strategies is completely frying my brain. Chocolate and Chai tea are helping - as are the lovely CPs. But I'm still slooooooow!

    So, you're not alone. We'll keep working at it though - because there just isn't any alternative, is there? Good luck!!! Sending more hugs too :)

  56. Yeah, we've all been there. Sometimes a story just doesn't work for whatever reason. Try and look at it from a different POV or a different character. I don't plot stories, I write the plot once I know the characters. Do a character worksheet for each one like one of the suggestions above. Maybe you're trying to write the "wrong" part of the story. And yes, you can take a break from not writing. Go for a walk, it helps me. Don't think about your plot AT ALL and something might come to you. Hope this helps. Hang in there. Do some stream of consciousness writing sometimes that helps too.

  57. It sounds like you're trying to fix a problem, but you don't know what the problem is. Are you sure it's your problem to fix?

    Maybe just step to the side and let the characters tell you.

  58. I think sometimes, you just need a break. Especially in the in-between. But we ambitious people have a lot of trouble with that thought. Some things I have tried:

    1. Screw plotting. Just start writing free style. The ideas might come that way.
    2. Read. It's work if it's going to help you build your world! Try reading science articles or politics or history. Something you can draw on.
    3. Read about writing, structuring, plotting. It might tell you what's holding you back in planning this book.

    I'm struggling with plotting too! I'm a pantser who is trying to "grow up".

  59. Okay, clearly you have a ton of comments on this already. But I'm going to give my very simple suggestion.

    Grab your mother or a bestie or someone who likes your writing but isn't necessarily a writing guru themselves, and ask them if you can explain your new story idea to them. Then begin explaining from the beginning. They will be confused and ask questions. You will find yourself making stuff up just so they understand, and simplifying because they totally don't get it, and you will find that by simplifying and making stuff up and listening to their very innocent and horrible "helpful" suggestions that a tiny bit more of your plot makes sense.

    Weird as this sounds, it works for me every time. And I can so empathize, authoress! Been there, done that. So give it a try, and do consider setting this aside for a while, maybe working on short stories. But good luck.


  60. Wow, what great responses. And ugh, I'm so sorry you're in this position in the first place. It is so truly miserable. However, I just want to say this: even in this dark pit of despair, because you *know* you won't -- can't -- stop writing, you *will* come through this. Really, you will.

    And for suggestions on how to get out... two more things to try!

    1. Ask questions like you're a four-year-old on a sugar bender. Ask how things work, ask why they must work a certain way and what happens if something breaks. Is The Thing something that would solve these problems? Interview the MC and major protags, interview minor characters, read their imaginary diary entries, eavesdrop, follow them, wake them and ask what they were dreaming about, talk to their parents. Who knows about The Thing, who made it? Does Evelyn even know she has it? Can you see it? Can you hold it? Smell it?! I bet someone can tell you something you didn't know that turns out to have huge consequences for the plot.

    2. Have you tried working backwards? Take a tiny moment of dialog, an exchange between two characters (and they can even be minor characters) and work back from that conversation. From what they say and feel and how they react, build out the bigger context. And then continue, building out context to that context. You're going to need to pants a little, but as a structure hound myself I promise it's not all terrible. You almost certainly won't use it all, if any of what you write. But sometimes characters say the darndest things that turn out to be clues to the big stuff.

    Good luck. You'll pull through. Just keep your fingers moving and soon enough you'll find yourself on the other side chuckling about how silly you were to be so worried. Not to say it doesn't SUCK to be there. But because you can't ever stop writing (remember? :) ) you *will* pull through.


  61. Wow, I was feeling really good about my own problems haha. I thought every writer went through this. Then, half way thru the comments someone says they never . ever went thru this and offers her condolences to Authoress. After that entry, I admit, I felt like crap. What she said made me really sad and made me realize I won't ever make it as a writer

  62. You all have no idea how much I want to respond to each of these suggestions personally. THIS IS ALL SO VERY WONDERFUL!

    Chatty Kathy -- are you and I reading the same comments? Because I didn't see a single comment that said what you claimed it said. O_O

  63. Dear Authoress,

    yes I am new to this, but no I felt what you felt in your post! But you can remove the name but yes after I got validation for feeling we all feel this way there was a post by Karen Duvall that offered you condolences and said she never in her life felt this. So, yes, it made me feel bad. I thought bumps were universal. But, she kind of said no no they are not. And , as I said, my confidence was needing to feel that everyone went thru "block phases". But, according to her, nope. And she even sent you condolences for what I THOUGHT was a normal writing down time.

  64. I've never particularly felt what you speak of this badly, but I try to come at these issues from the perspective of logic. It's a puzzle. So instead of asking yourself what the blasted thing IS--this something that Evelyn has and both sides of the war want--ask yourself this:

    What does the story NEED it to be? What do you need to make happen, and how can this THING help you reach that story event? Do you need it to be a weapon? A long lost artifact that is sacred to both sides? Could it settle who is "right" in the war once and for all? An ancient tome, perhaps, a record of their first scuffles? Is it a cure for some horrible disease?

    How could you come at it... okay, what about this.
    What if your next step is to decide whether this object/thing has a negative influence/potential -- (example, an ultimate weapon) -- a positive influence/potential (a way to make the war stop without too many people getting hurt, a cure for something, a new scientific discovery that could bring them together, something both sides have been searching for for a long time, something sacred to them) -- or is it a neutral thing, this object/thing (something that could be potentially bad or good, depending on who is using it. An example might be... maybe it bends people's wills, or makes crops grow, or is some sort of something that can manipulate. Depending on whose hands it is in, that effects whether or not it is used for good.)

    Finally, are you sure this thing is a THING and not some sort of...person? Or if not a person, a creature? A character? A lost god? Perhaps it is eluding you on purpose. If it is a living being, and not an object, maybe that is a clue. Maybe that is its very nature. To try to hide from the people that would use it for evil or destruction. Maybe its the last of its kind or something.

    Anyway authoress, I have no doubt you will figure this out, and good luck. We really appreciate you opening up to your readers. Don't forget we believe in you just as much as you believe in us!

  65. Chatty,

    Honestly, you've both misquoted her and read her words wrong.

    This is what Karen said:

    "Authoress, I'm so sorry this is happening to you. I have the opposite problem because my plotting is great, it's developing characters that can be my greater challenge."

    Which means that, when Karen gets stuck, it tends to be on character development instead of on plot. Saying "I have the opposite problem" is not the same as saying, "You loser, that never happens to me."

    I could just as easily say to Karen, "Character development is not where I get stuck. I have the opposite problem." We all get stuck in different places, and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. That's why it's so important to continue to offer our support and encouragement to each other.

    Karen is a long-time reader and participant here; I value her input and the time she devotes to critiquing things on the blog. I was not offended by her comment; I knew exactly what she was saying.

    I would encourage you to read her words in context. Truly, they do not have the meaning you have attributed to them.

    We're all in this together! Don't be easily offended or hurt by the words of others. You're going to need a tough skin to stick this journey out. YES, YOU CAN DO IT. But not if you let yourself be slain by comments you've, perhaps, misunderstood. <3

  66. So glad I stumbled on this. I actually took some notes from the comments section--thanks everyone! I'm also feeling stuck on the plot of my Nano project, and I'm trying to approach editing it in a totally organized, non-pantser fashion. I did everything wrong the first time I did Nano a few years ago, and am slowly learning that while I create some fun characters and settings, the actual plot needs to go somewhere. :D

    Although, I do have a problematic Evelyn character myself, who is causing me grief.

    Thanks for sharing everyone!

  67. Hey Authoress -

    I'm sorry to hear what you're going through because I know what plot hell feels like. Here's something I saw on Writers Unboxed today that might help:


  68. Time for a road trip! A story centered quest!

    Is there any place you can find nearby that could "take you" to a scene in your story? Even if it is SF, you can still do this. (If the cast of the Big Bang Theory can visit the realm of Star Trek, then you can find a place for your world). Go there alone and at a time when you think there may not be many people around.

    Watch a couple of movies that take place in the area (or similar world) you are creating. Where would the locations be if your story were a movie? Even SF is filmed on location on planet Earth. While you are surfing, is there an actor that reminds you of one of your characters? Seeing their movements and hearing their accent can lure you into your character's mind.

    What about music? What would the soundtrack of this story sound like? Soundtracks to the movies you find above may carry your emotions straight to your scenes.

    The 80s mix tape idea IS the solution to any problem.

    If none of this helps or you have tried these things, find a place or hiking trail that wouldn't be terribly crowded. Go with one thought in mind: show me. Your muse will talk to you in ways you may or may not suspect. How do I know? I did this yesterday after writing the climax of my WIP and came home with inspiring photos of a post-storm Ireland (via a Tennessee State Park), a couple of CDs of traditional Celtic songs and a cool map of the Emerald Isle (thanks to a Celtic coffee shop 10 miles from the park), and a lovely Irish tea with honey to sip as I jotted down ideas for other parts of the book.

    Bottom line, if your story won't come to you, then you go to it.

  69. I'm sorry, Chatty Kathy, that you misinterpreted my comment to Authoress. My goal is always to encourage others, never to discourage. As writers, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I'm fortunate to have good plotting mojo, but that certainly doesn't mean I have all the answers. Never give up on writing because there's something you don't do well at first. Plotting, characterization, scene structure, description, world building, etc. are all elements of craft that require education and practice to get right. It's why we have critique, attend workshops and conferences, and read books and blogs by professionals who teach the writing craft. No one wakes up one morning to pen a perfect book. Give yourself a chance to learn. I wish you only the best of luck.

  70. All I can say is, I feel your pain.

  71. I actually had this very problem with NaNoWriMo this 40 pages into the story and realized I had no idea what to do next--and (worse than that) didn't really care what happened next!
    I put the story aside, and now, a couple months later, things actually seem to make more sense.
    Suddenly, I like the characters again and want to rejoin them on their journey. So, we'll see.
    Another thing I once heard suggested (but which I've never tried) is to totally do something drastic--like kill off a main character or introduce a new one--and write on to see what happens.
    Sometimes, by doing the totally 'wrong thing' you can discover what the right thing (plot-wise) will be.
    One day I'll have to try that out for myself.

  72. I've gleaned a few plot ideas from reading ancient myths, browsing articles on wikipedia.

    As an aside, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one writing those stream of consciousness diatribes in my documents.

  73. I'm coming to this a bit late, and everyone has already given so many great ideas, but here's my two cents.

    When I have plotting issues I try and think about them in bed, right before falling asleep. I go over what I know so far and I try and let the characters tell me what's going to happen next. Sometimes it ends in brainstorms, sometimes in dreams, and sometimes in laying awake all night trying to get the pieces to click. :( But I've had enough success to keep trying it.

    Hope this helps, and I wish you the best of luck at getting past this.

  74. I've had the exact same issue you are having. I start with an intimate look at a young heroine, then have to have her factor importantly into a war on a grand scale.

    What are your entities fighting over? Someone said look at some ancient mythology wars. Great idea. Look at historical conflicts as well.

    If that doesn't work, make it personal. If the power went out tomorrow and it was suddenly every man and woman for themselves, what would you fight for? Territory? Water? Personal Freedoms?

  75. And our heroine doesn't have to have a physical object. She can have a skill or ability. She can be an heiress, hold a title or position. She can know something. She can be part of an ancient prophecy. She can be a symbol. Or just another cog in the war machine who inadvertently becomes significant.