Pounding away at my book-in-progress almost every day, I reached a point where it Just. Wasn't. Working.
A local editor gave a terrific presentation to my SCBWI chapter, offering a writer's intensive workshop and critiques. Her suggestions confirmed a lot of my suspicions about character and plot devices that weren't serving my book.
Super useful, but not as much fun as "Oh my god, this is a work of unfiltered genius!"
I got down to work, shifting to a first-person perspective and eliminating the problematic trope...and then began to flail. What the hell am I doing? How can I speak in this character's voice? What's going to drive the plot forward if not a tired, overused cliche?
I've also been rereading Harry Potter, which is like staring at the Sistine Chapel while completing a paint-by-number.
Google to the rescue.
I typed in How to Write a Novel and fell upon Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method. Its logical, analytical, spreadsheet (!) oriented technique for designing a novel really speaks to me. I like the fractal-based concept of a snowflake, building a novel one bit at a time until the complicated final picture seems beautifully impossible, complex, and inevitable.
Sure enough, as I'm going through the steps, I'm forced to confront basic things like character motivation and scene goals. I even like the ridiculously technical MRUs that he borrows from Dwight Swain. Now I am adding tools to my toolbox, going backwards a little bit but building from within--with a plan.
All the while reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Suddenly I realized that part of Rowling's genius (how did I not see this before?) was that she knew what was going to happen in book 7 way back in book 1.
The reader doesn't know what's going to happen, but the writer does, and that's what brings that extra layer of resonance to the series, and to each individual book. Everything is tightly plotted, the characters are all carefully considered, and relationships are building toward the inevitable. A.Maze.Ing.
And so, back to the drawing board. Now I'm plotting out the wheres and whys of my entire series, including where it will end, which is already beginning to create interesting new complications in the book I'm writing now. If I understand the big picture, it's a lot easier to explain it to the reader--in pieces, of course. It seems so obvious now, but when I was up to my eyeballs in Chapter 6, it was easy to lose sight.
My hope is that these new inspirations will result in a layered, compelling read. I'm no Michelangelo (or Rowling), but I'm learning.