How to Get Out of Writer’s Block

Designing plot: like trying to assemble a marble run

Designing plot: like trying to assemble a marble run

For me the most effective way through writer’s block is to become like my three-year-old and son ask questions. “Mummy, why?” is something he repeats ten times a minutes and, as infuriating as it is, it’s how he learns about the world around him. Most of my answers start with “I don’t know, maybe because…”, or, “Let’s google it”.

Working out what’s going on in a new novel is no different. The more questions you ask, the better the story gets. The harder you search for answers the further you get away from clichés and predictable plot lines. But when asking what happens next and why comes up with nothing, you can start questioning the characters instead. What are their motivations? What are they yearning for, even if they don’t know themselves? What are their greatest fears? What might happen to chuck them out their comfort zone.

Like many younger siblings, my protagonist George is looking for his own identity. He knows he isn’t smart like his sister or sporty and musical like his brother. He thinks his mum doesn’t love him, that he’s always useless. Only his dad understood him, and he vanished a year ago. The thing he likes to do most is kill aliens in his computer games. But he also likes to cook.

As the story progresses, George is discovering he’s fitter and smarter than he thinks he is, and his cooking ability is earning him respect. But, now that I’m at a dead end in the plot, I’ve been questioning him to see if he can help me work out what happens next. And he’s reminded me he loves computer games, which means he is observant and tactical. If the games he plays are like the Tomb Raider games I loved as a teenager, he has to work out puzzles and keep trying until something works. He must be tenacious and brave and good at lateral thinking.

So far his co-protagonist Merula has been leading them both and making the decisions. They are in her world and she has the answers. But he’s been challenging her thinking, questioning things she’s always believed in, and now they’re at an impasse. I think it’s time for George to come into his own and develop a clever strategy to take the action forward, using his game-playing skills.

Now if only I knew what games ten-year-old boys are playing these days I would feel on more solid ground. Any ideas?

8 thoughts on “How to Get Out of Writer’s Block

      • My friend’s 9 year old is completely addicted to it. But you could always have your own equivalent. Indeed, you should, never ever mention a brand in a book…. Because if you do you have to ask them if you may. My baddie drove a Mercedes shaped flying car. McOther had a loop when he saw what I’d done. It’s now described as looking like a Mercedes in this version of reality but it’s called the Interceptor.



      • Yes I worried about that in Two Hundred Steps Home. I took Coke out and need to do the same for Starbucks, although the whole thing is riddled with real places. There’s a movie quote I need to take out of Baby Blues too. I foolishly thought if I didn’t name the movie it’d be okay but of course that’s much worse! I tried to get permssion to use it but it’s from a Lucas film so no chance! I couldn’t even find who to ask… Sometimes being an Indie sucks!

  1. Minecraft. For some reason all the kids love it. There’s also some youtube thing they watch about it. Some guy basically takes the listener through stages and strategies. My youngest listens to him like he’s some sort of guru. Stampy I think his name is. He kinda talks you through the game stages. I think. Drives me insane to hear him talking. But they must get something from him. Might be worth a listen to.
    Great way round writer’s block to ask those questions. Would be interesting to see what would come up if you were in character and someone else was questioning you. Like a brain storming session. Or when you’re stuck on a problem and as soon as you start to explain the problem to someone who doesn’t understand the answer leaps out at you.x

    • The Minecraft videos sound great – might have to tailor my current invented game ‘dinosaurs vs aliens’ (shows what I know!) into something a bit more creative.
      I’ve never been any good at interviewing characters and getting inside characters’ heads before but I’m getting better as I do more writing.
      A lot of ideas leap out at me at 2am and I have to either scrabble around for my phone or a pen or hope they’re still there in the morning (they never are!)

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