I mentioned before how useful it is to write these bios and notes as though I'm explaining them to someone who knows nothing about the story. This is becoming more and more true. There are a few gray areas in my head that I thought I understood, but when forced to write them out in detail, I realized some things didn't make sense yet. And if they don't make sense to me, how will they make sense to the reader when I actually write the book? These exercises have forced me to make sure I've got everything thought out. There's a group of people in the book who are instrumental to the plot, and I thought I understood them inside and out. But, as it turned out, there were a few snags, which forced me to step back and reevaluate things.
I'm often asked how to deal with writer's block. For me, the best way to overcome it is to prevent it in the first place. Writer's block often happens because you don't know what's going to happen next. If I can figure it all out before I write the book, then most of my battle is fought. Now, this method isn't for everyone. In the writer divide of plotters and pantsers (as in, those who write by the seat of their pants), I'm definitely a plotter. Some people don't need to know anything in advance. They can sit down and figure out their book on the fly. But, if you find yourself stalling out and staring at the screen for a long period of time, it might be beneficial to join the plotter ranks.
The other thing I've hammered out is the book's big arc, which I divide into three acts. A lot of books naturally fall into this pattern. For me, Act 1 is usually the set up--catching up with our characters, finding out the status quo, etc. Act 2 is when the main conflict initially unfolds and the characters are working to achieve their various goal. Act 3 is when the conflict really explodes, the characters must deal with it, and many of the secrets woven throughout the book come to light. To use Vampire Academy #1 as an example (spoilers ahead), Act 1 is Rose and Lissa returning and readjusting to school. Act 2 is them trying to work through their goals and the consequences that unfold: Rose training and falling for Dimitri, Lissa fighting her madness, Mia, mysterious notes, etc. Act 3 is when things really hit their crazy point (the lust charm, Rose and Lissa's fight) and then result in the ultimate dangerous showdown at Victor's. This is also when all the secrets about spirit come out and when the characters have to wrap things up afterward (a happy romantic ending for Lissa, less so for Rose). Again--this doesn't happen for all books, but it does for many. It's not a cookie cutter pattern. It's another way of looking at the "rising conflict" diagram you may have learned about in school. Stories that hook us having building action and tension. The three act system helps me break that down.
And, since this is part of a series, the series also has an overarching plot that also has three acts. The VA series very neatly splits off into two books per act (this will not always be the case). VA and Frostbite are the first act, setting up the world and characters. Shadow Kiss and Blood Promise are when things go bad, ending the act with the OHMYGODHOWCANTHEYGETOUTOFTHIS moments. And Spirit Bound and Last Sacrifice are when the C4 comes out and they have to work to fix Act 2 and wrap everything up. That's why those middle books in a series often have the jaw dropper endings--not because I hate the number three, but because so often in storytelling, the second third is when you deliver the sucker punch. So, as I work on Age of X, I have to be conscious of each individual book's structure, as well as how those books fit into the big structure of the series. It also means I need to know my end game (i.e. the conclusion of the series) to really make the other books count. And along the way, there will be countless details and subplots that need to be worked out.
It boggles the mind. And I'd best get back to it.