Since I posted progress on Tiamat's Nest last month, I've added another 7,500 words, a bit short of my target of 10k a month. I find I'm still struggling with that "What happens next?" question.
Things seemed to be going along fairly well for most of November. Then I hit a brick wall, and belatedly realized that I'm also grappling once more with an earlier demon from August - tangled timelines and parallel plot threads.
This demon got cunning, though, and ambushed me from behind. I didn't spot him until it was too late, because all my parallel threads are happening off stage and I didn't even realize they were there!
The thing is, when you write with just one or two POV characters, the story revolves around what those characters experience. It's easy to forget about all those others who've vanished off stage for a while.
Easy, but dangerous!
All your characters, even the minor ones, have lives of their own to lead. When they disappear from the page, it's tempting to shelve them, ready to bring them back into the story when they're next needed.
That might work if their lives off stage genuinely don't intersect with the story. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione carried on with their adventures, I'm sure Snape didn't spend the whole time perched on a stool in his dungeon until he was needed. He must have had other things to do, but we don't know about them because they weren't relevant. Fine, but as a writer, how do you know unless you've given it some thought?
When Frodo and Sam escaped from the Shire and arrived at The Prancing Pony, Gandalf was nowhere to be seen. Was he sitting in a leafy glade, smoking his pipe, and waiting for his cue to turn up at Rivendell? Was he heck! He was having his own adventure with Saruman, but we only get to hear about that later on because the story is not told from his point of view.
In my case, I started off with multiple participants and had to use various tricks to untangle the various storylines. I settled on just two POV characters, but I was still very much aware of the other threads to be woven together.
The point I've reached in the story, both my POV characters are now together (which is posing challenges of its own) and I was merrily pootling along telling their story. I started running out of steam, feeling like I was missing something important, and it finally clicked - those other non-POV individuals are still out there, and they are important to the story! They need to be doing things to help, and I've been neglecting them.
I hope they'll forgive me, and choose to co-operate!
The lesson is that all your characters have their own story to tell. It may be relevant, it may not, but even so it might help enrich the story you're telling. So, it's worth asking yourself, for each of your off-stage characters, what might X be doing now, and is it important to the story?