There’s nothing more frustrating than not knowing what next step my protagonist should take. I have the main scenes of the novel outlined so that I know what the next crisis or denouement will be, but I can’t always see the best way to get there. Some writers talk about their characters becoming “alive” on the page and who take over the story, telling the writer what needs to happen next. My main character isn’t talking to me yet – if she ever will. I don’t think I could be one of these pantsers (as in fly-by-the seat of your pants). Especially with mysteries, I need to have an outline that tells me what direction I’m going in. Sure, that outline changes over time as my ideas develop, but I keep editing the outline as I go – adjusting for the changes in the story.
It’s the small steps in between that I sometimes get bogged down in. Should she meet this character for coffee? Should this next conversation take place on the phone or in person? Would she be nervous about staying at home alone after the break-in, and if she is, would she call a friend over or stay somewhere else? One decision always leads to other options in getting to the next climax. For instance, if the conversation that needs to take place happens in a public place and not on the phone, then there is an opportunity for another character to overhear it.
I could get bogged down in these details. The best thing about the first draft, I guess, is that I can go one way and then later I can go another way in the revision if the first path doesn’t work out. Ok then, forward march!