I realized something important today. I am working on a novel, though for the past few months, "working on" is a loose term. I had an idea, I wrote up some stuff a few months ago, then my laptop died and I lost it. Came back to the idea, wrote some more, then trashed it. So I have the idea in terms of the two main characters and the ending, but nothing else.
I have often read authors such as Toni Morrison speak of watching their characters to see what they do, which implies that the author doesn't control the actions and thoughts of the characters. Seems like a funny concept, I know, but it is an important one. The characters have to be real in your head, separate individuals from you. They have to have their own lives and you just have to document it, in order to be successful at least. That has never really happened for me; I struggled to figure out what to make characters do and such. If my story wasn't based in reality, if it was pure fiction... I had as hard a time as any reader guessing what would happen next.
Recently, though, and I'm talking the last week or so, my characters have come alive in my head. I will be doing something else, totally unrelated to the novel, when all of a sudden I will see them doing something, some scene, where they are and how they feel. It's awesome. I think I am finally on the right track with this thing. I have gotten more valuable stuff down in the last couple of days than anything over the last several months.