Writer's Block and Plot Outlines

I can't work on my book right now. I mean, I can, but I would just be spinning my wheels. I have writer's block. I have a sneaking suspicion that I just need to start writing something, and hopefully, I'll get into a groove that'll get me through this. I'm going to cover the story of how I tried to prevent this writer's block, and in the process created it: a classic Greek tragedy of fate.
Image result for block of concrete
Behold! The writer's block!
At first, for roughly a month after I began Children of Abeona, I was on a roll. I netted at least six thousand words a week, and I had a crystal clear picture of what I needed to get done, what the plot would look like, what the world would work like, and what the characters would act like. It was an amazingly productive time. A few weeks into it, I had a moment of realization, drawing on earlier experience, and started writing the background file and plot outline.  What was that ealier experience? Well, let me tell you a story...

The last time I tried to write a novel, I didn't write an outline. I thought that I would be able to write the whole thing off the cuff. I had a strong sense of the world and the characters in my own head— that should be enough: just let them develop naturally and see where it goes! I would soon find out, however, that this strategy doesn't work for epic scale sci-fi novels: I just ran out of plot points and ended up trailing off in a long winded extra two chapters. Why? You see, "pantsing" a novel (writing it by the seat of your pants) works well for big, long, opera-like character drama novels where there isn't a set structure or a place to go, and you're just letting your imagination run wild— i.e. it works best when the novel is just about characters interacting. I'd imagine that, for instance, a Jane Austin or Tolstoy novel, while they may have had a very basic plot outline, didn't have a very detailed one during the writing process. In novels centered primarily around character interaction, you can just set up characters and let them interact. Why doesn't this work for sci-fi novels? At least for me, it was because: I had the ultimate goal strongly in mind, and I had the starting point as well, but I didn't have a plan for how the journey should go. For awhile it was fairly easy to embellish and extend the direct journey from A to B, because I had to do the initial world- and character-building. Sadly, when I got to the part of the novel (at around 32k words) where the worldbuilding was mostly done and the characters were well established (and had fallen into more or less of a stable pattern of interaction, as real people are wont), there wasn't a lot to actually thicken out the intermediary journey. Everything I tried or could think of just seemed unnecessary and extraneous. But if I skipped directly to point B, it wouldn't have enough impact and would be unsatisfying. Eventually, I just gave up on the novel. I'd used up too many plot-points too early on and there wasn't much I could do for it.

Next time, I decided, I'd do better. So, when starting out Children of Abeona, I wrote four outlines. The first outline, was the biggest: an outline for the main plot thread, following the central PoV character: Aedus. I started with the three-act structure, then split each act into three-to-four sections that would explain the general outline of how the act went and how it transitioned to the next one. Then, I put a number of bullet points into each section, up to sixteen bullet points, but on average around six or seven. Each bullet point was a specific plot event or twist. Once I was done with the main plot outline, I made a parallel plot for the second PoV character, Cassandra, with the same amount of acts and sections, but fewer bullet points under them. Once that was done, I made an Act-based character arc outline for both PoV characters. I also wrote in a couple things like a list of themes, and a table of characters with associated metadata. I thought I was going to be set! Nothing could upset my writing spree now! Unfortunately, that wasn't to be.

My writing screen for my book at the moment. Outline on the right.

You see, there's a specific section of the plot where the main group of people, along with Aedus, are supposed to be chased around the desert getting desperate and hopeless. This is supposed to be a set of scenes that allows me to both develop Aedus as a leader, and introduce a few side characters and how they relate to Aedus and each other. It's going fairly well, but I'm running out of material. Sounds like a similar problem as before, right? Well no, not exactly. In fact, its rather ironic— this problem actually comes from having a plot outline in the first place. You see, now I have a sense for what the overall and even specific details and structure of my novel need to be. I know how each section is supposed to feel, and how long it should take. I have also planned out everything implicitly relying on my ability to actually work out those plot-points— my ability to make them happen. So now that I can't seem to get this plot point to work quite right, I'm stuck: I know how its supposed to feel, how much material is supposed to be here, but I can't actually find that feel, or that material. And I don't want to change the rest of the novel— its so clear in my head, and in the outline.

Even worse, thanks to the two parallel plot outlines, I can't stop the scene now and move the story forward, even if I was willing to change the plot outline. Why? Because I have a second thread, with Cassandra, going on. In it, she's dealing with her PTSD and also at the same time trying to politic her way out of a nasty situation. That's got a lot of content ideas embedded in it, but I just have no idea how to proceed at an even pace while covering all the material. Plus, her story needs to take place concurrently to Aedus', so I can't advance Aedus story until Cassandra's has run its course, for this section.

So on both fronts I'm sort of confounded. I just really don't know where I should go from here. I'm trying to forge ahead on Cassandra's side, since I can extend and explore her fear and PTSD until something seems natural on the political side. On the other side, I'll just extend the time between I switch back to Aedus, and see if that works out.

Anyway, for anyone who reads this blog, hope that was a good update. Anyway, I'm gonna try to jump back into the novel now.


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