Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What do you do when you get stuck? (With Nadine Brandes!)

We are back today with Nadine Brandes. As much as I've crowed about Fawkes, did you know that Nadine has a dystopian trilogy she wrote that came before Fawkes. It's called the Out of Time trilogy, and it's amazing. Here is a description of book one, A Time to Die:

How would you live if you knew the day you'd die? 

Parvin Blackwater believes she has wasted her life. At only seventeen, she has one year left according to the Clock by her bedside. In a last-ditch effort to make a difference, she tries to rescue Radicals from the government's crooked justice system. 

But when the authorities find out about her illegal activity, they cast her through the Wall -- her people's death sentence. What she finds on the other side about the world, about eternity, and about herself changes Parvin forever and might just save her people. But her clock is running out.

Now, on to today's question:

What do you do when you get stuck? When either the plot has fizzled or the last scene you wrote took you to a dead end?

Nadine: I start outlining using bullet points. I don’t outline or really plot out my novels beforehand—I keep them organized in my head. But when I get stuck and I start trying to plot out the next scene, I usually get hit with inspiration. Or I’ll ask myself, “What needs to happen that hasn’t happened yet?” Do I need to kill off a character? Do we need to have a failed plan? Do we need a victory? Do we need a slow time or a romantic interaction? I try to think of what’s lacking from the story and then that’ll bump me into the next section of writing.

Shan: I sulk. For just a bit and then I allow myself the privilege of hacking troublesome scenes to pieces. I also walk, a lot. I live in a court and I pace relentlessly when I’m dealing with a knot or a plot hole. The neighbors think I’m crazy, but there are studies that say moving forward with your feet actually helps your brain problem solve, so I embrace the exercise wholeheartedly.

Stephanie: Shan’s answer cracked me up. I sulk a bit too, honestly. And my pride used to keep me from asking for help. I’ve now learned that if I can’t figure something out in regards to my story, it usually just takes five minutes of brainstorming with a writer friend to untangle it. Other writers (who know you and know your story) don’t have the burden of having to do the writing and untangling, so they have an amazing way of being able to point at what’s wrong and suggest how to fix it.

Jill: First, I fight with the thing, trying to beat it into submission. And when I finally stop living in denial and admit to myself, "I'm stuck!" then what usually helps best is to either do some mundane chore, like the dishes, to take a shower, to go on a walk, or to go on a drive. I need to get away from the computer and the keyboard and think, think, think. There have been times when I'll take the disaster to friends for brainstorming, and that often helps, but usually I can figure it out myself if I step away from the computer.

If it's a major plot knot or hole, then I might need to spread out my storyboard cards again and see if I can rearrange some times, ad or take away. No matter how the problem gets solved, I usually fix my storyboard cards so that they read the right thing. Because I'll very likely get stuck again, and if my cards aren't updated, I won't be able to see the book clearly.

What about you? 

What do you do when you get stuck?


  1. Mine is sort of a combo of Shan’s answer and Nadine’s—I have to sort things out in my head by stepping away, but usually the way I do that is to take the dog for a super long walk around my neighborhood and talk out loud to myself. (They think you’re crazy, Shan... I’d be very curious to hear my neighbors’ opinions of me. XD)

    1. They'd definitely think you're crazy, but ramble on! Crazy is sort of necessary in this line of work.

  2. Love these Q & As! I have four go-tos if I'm stuck in my writing (whether it's fiction or nonfiction). 1. Like Shan, I walk, but I usually hike in the woods and let my mind wander wherever it wants. 2. I chat with my daughter, who isn't a writer but is an incredible storyteller, about my stuckness. 3. I listen to music that seems to fit the tone of the scene in which I'm stuck and then picture my characters and what they're doing, even if it doesn't seem to make sense for the scene directly. 4. I lie down as if I'm going to sleep. The mind apparently shifts into a different type of brain wave and mimics those times when I'm about to actually fall asleep or am just waking up and inspiration usually strikes. I have to say I also pray for guidance, often before I start writing.

    1. I wish I had woods nearby to hike in! Jealous!