I am super excited. I had thought things were going really well with ALDEN RIDGE, but yesterday and today I was really starting to hit some blockage. But tonight I've had a revelation, and practically the rest of the book was laid out before me! Talk about adrenaline--it's onset has actually given me a headache, but I don't care.
The first problem that I was facing was that I just wasn't certain about some of two of my main characters' motivations early in the story. I had enough backstory that I knew each character quite well, but the situation they were in was ambiguous enough that they could each react in a couple of different ways. I was having trouble deciding in which way to have them react. This is normally something that I would just let work itself out on the page, or in my last stage of prewriting for a chapter, but this time it wasn't happening. After a rip roaring start, I was stuck.
Fortunately, no three week break from writing was required this time (that's happened to me before). Tonight, I realized that it wasn't a problem of characters' motivation at all--that wasn't the root problem, anyway. The problem was that I didn't know exactly where the plot was going. I had the general plot arc all set up, and all the themes, setting, characters, and so on designed to perfection, but I still didn't quite have a story. Or rather, the story that I had in mind was enough for a long short story, or a short novella, but not a full-length novel.
It just wasn't complex enough, and also would have required a lot of boring, ruminative exposition to really address my central themes. When I realized this, I realized that I had neglected my fundamental rule of novel writing: a great novel must have TWO strong ideas. For THE GUARDIAN, my first idea is what is highlighted in my overview--the Otherworld, Sean's abilities as a Thaumaturge, demons lurking, the world is based on a lie. Those are actually multiple ideas, I know, but they all essentially fit together to create the basic premise and setting. These are the elements that you learn about early on into the story. What comes later, which I've referred to as a 'twist' thus far, is what makes the story really unique.
I was thinking about how I'd set all that up, and knew that was lacking in ALDEN RIDGE. You've basically read about the general gist of that book's first idea in my overview--the zombies, broken earth urban fantasy--all of that again addresses the setting and the premise. There's some other very cool stuff along those lines that you don't know about yet (naturally), but nothing that would be completely unexpected to a really smart reader of the genre.
To address this problem, I kept coming back to my central themes: lots of ruminative exposition would kill the book, even if I was actually able to finish writing it (I have a really hard time writing things I know aren't interesting). I needed a way to convey all those ideas, to build those themes, without requiring them to ever be explicitly stated. Obvious, you say? Well, that is how themes generally work, I know. But early into a project, things like that can be forgotten--at least by me.
The solution to my themes problem and my second-great-idea problem turned out to be exactly the same: externalize the themes. This idea isn't original to me: I once heard it said that (to paraphrase) "the greatest strength of fantasy is its ability to externalize the internal conflicts of the characters." I did this in a major way with my twist in THE GUARDIAN, and now I have what you might call a twist in ALDEN RIDGE using this same basic technique.
I need to remember this for the future. I need to remember that this is why I've always loved fantasy more than any other genre (even more than sci-fi, thriller, or horror): fantasy is able to take unique characters and setting, and blend them into a cohesive whole in which one is reflected in the other.
P.S. - There is also now going to be a much larger element of romance in this story. Romance is an important aspect of THE GUARDIAN, as well, but also something that I'm largely deferring to later books in that series (just because of how the story goes). I hadn't anticipated having the opportunity for a strong romantic sub-plot in ALDEN RIDGE, so I'm excited to suddenly have that.