Is there such a thing as plotter’s block? I’m in the process of plotting out the third book in the Jason Hunter “Children of Hathor” trilogy, and sometimes it feels like I’m slogging through a deep swamp and making precious little progress.
I should explain. My method of writing a novel is very structured. Not only do I need to know where I’m going, I need to know how I got there. I know some writers just sit down and start writing, letting the muse lead them where it will. That just doesn’t work for me. I have to have the entire novel plotted out in detail before I even think about typing the words “It was a dark and stormy night.” I need to know how and where the action starts, and how each action leads to a reaction and then to another action. I need to know where the characters go, who they meet, what happens to them, and why. Essentially, I need to have the whole book in my head before I can begin to write.
This approach has its positive points. When I finally do begin to write, I never get stuck. Because I’ve spent so much time going over and developing every single plot detail and weighing every possible alternative, I never suffer from writer’s block. Once I start writing, it comes out like a flood, and it doesn’t stop until “The End.” And I find that, since I have figured everything out ahead of time, I am spared major re-writes. Scenes that I love and dearly want to write but that don’t advance the plot get axed before they are written. Essentially, I do the major re-writes before I even start writing.
I suppose some readers may be tempted to think this approach stifles creativity, but that isn’t the case. My characters still surprise me. I never know precisely what they are going to say until I’m writing the scene, and sometimes they act in ways I did not anticipate. Their unanticipated actions always enhance the plot while at the same time providing greater depth to their personalities.
The downside of my approach, of course, is that trying to figure out every element of a complex plot in advance can be daunting. Sometimes it just feels like I’m going around in circles (or slogging through thick mud — see above). Can you call that plotter’s block?
I know how Book Three begins, and I know how it ends. In fact, I’ve known these things since I started writing Book Two. The problem is, I’m not quite sure how my characters got from that established beginning to the established end. Where did they go? What happened at each place and time that drove them inexorably to the climax? I’ve been mulling this over for several months now, alternating between an analytical approach (complete with reams of notes) and an intuitive approach, where I try to let my creative mind wander in a daydream, hoping it will come up with something. Lately it has been very stingy.
I thought Book Three would be the easiest of the three, since the major plot elements have been established and the story is racing toward its conclusion. This has turned out to not be the case, which is surprising to me. And frustrating. My characters are very real to me, and in my mind their story has already reached its conclusion, but they refuse to tell me what happened.