A Goal or ending scene is expected to be drafted. That gives me a direction, and probably a genre. And I will have the inciting question, the 'question'. My methods work best if there is a core question to answer.
If I don't have those things, I don't have an idea yet.
I might think I do, in fact I have been adamantly wrong about having an idea many times. Nothing like an arrogant writer who is also wrong about his own world. It is awkward and humbling.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”
Margarette Atwood once suggested she writes until she's near the fourth chapter, then tears the first three chapters out, because it takes that long for a writer to figure out where they are and what they are doing. There is a great deal of truth to that statement.
We begin as explorers. This person, this character we understand the most about -- who we know very little about -- begins to move. We have to make decisions for him first, since he can't yet.
Let's look at this -- follow for a moment -- what we call, an idea. It's a notion and nothing more. There is no depth, no definition. No world. There is only darkness and our mind fluttering above the surface, face to face with our creation which we make from ourselves -- for there is nothing else to raise it from. It's an exciting time. So, we watch and press our goal or our problem...by press of course I mean we try to start a fire...
...and we say, when the hum of energy under the surface rises to a keen... "let there be world. "
Unlike the master creator, we don't get the details without earning them. But we don't have to worry about creating light, water, and stone either. Fire and wind are freebies as well. Others have come before, and walked similar paths. We won't know what we need until we reach for a thing and find the table bare.
To move our character he needs more of a world than the spot he's standing on. We have to create the world further on, through extrapolation, through construction, through visualization -- what's it feel like for him to walk? To be? We create as we walk, we describe from the creation -- and like the master creator, our laws are written in stone.
Changes require new stone, and columns and places to stand.
If we wrote it, then in this world, it is the law. It is as stone, immaculate, and as forgiving as a maelstrom. If we fail to repeat the same information later. If we change it up, the Reader will recognize the discrepancy, and toss our book across the room. Discrepancy is a rot. Even small objects need their luster and their rust, in exact amounts. From the MC's name to the length of a Kingdom Mile, to the fission of stars, if we wrote that star into existence, we must maintain the story state of that star.
Our minds begin the creation fast and lean and on fire. Off the shelf, we bend to good performance. We are Maiar. But we need characters and people, and traffic, and personalities, and lawyers. We need the bones of the earth and the pillars of the skies to erect our stage. Trigger our volition and our world, the population explodes, the surface teams with life an activity. The throes of a story in birth cause exponential and ruthless growth.
The world must be peopled.
If there is no one, where you are going, then the McGuffin you chase becomes a people. A character. Not alive, but with intellectus and mood and needs.
And it is all cast into stone and silver. The doors are finished by the time we complete the far wall - because creation is not enough. Expansion is required. Details must be known. Rivets. We will call back to this loci and when we do, it will be because we need to create something else from that point -- nine chapters ago — back when we couldn't have possibly known we would need this thing.
.Twenty times we read back in our creation to recall what we said, and twelve of those times we forget why we were looking the information up. That's the rub with limitations. They limit your ability to act, but not your desire to act or the belief you can act.
They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High." ~ God : Psalms 82:5-6
How long have we been sitting? Probably a couple of hours. So we are only breathing with the top third of our lungs by this point. Our oxygen level is 93 to 94. Our short term memory has been stuffed to capacity all this time. Being a chemically induced and controlled state it is now degrading because of lack of sugars and vitamins — including sunlight.
Some time between chapters three and five sounds about right... you have found exhaustion... the foundations of the earth are out of course.
You might want to look up the symptoms of oxygen deprivation, on things like short term memory, recall, and mood. We are way over critical by this point. This is not the time to judge your story.
One thing we often forget/ignore is mass and gravity. The more we build and create the more that needs to be created and built to support it all, and all it is going to become. And it all has the weight of the world behind it.
By chapter five, you not only need a break, you need structure and tools. The pyramids were not built by slaves alone. No matter how much muscle you have, you're not getting those stones that high without tools.
By chapter five your witty, sassy MC has made her mark, but we are coming into the middle story and you have nothing. You have that goal or problem — and while that may have come to us with a scene attached, it is likely an end story scene, not a middle story scene. Middle stories are the wastelands to be replanted. They are the arid planes to be made lush and green. They are nothing until you have a solid path into them.
She's running ahead, and you realize that there is nothing for her to run on out there. It is all still nothing until you create it, but now you're tired and it's not all that fun any more.
The story starts to crumble and you discover emotions. That's going to carry your middle story, but the butcher bill for that tool is having to feel those emotions, over and over and overtly grilling them for gold nuggets you can cast to your reader, allowing them transportation into the depths. And whether they are good or bad or transporting they are emotions and they do exhaust you as well.
Training. Exercise, Experience. There is no question here, really. There is no answer, except that time takes time and training. You are only remarking on what every new writer is faced with when they begin to become real writers. You are at the border. The years ramble on, but a story is still a story with all of its tenured pains and revelations required by the Reader.
Get up, walk. Do this before you are tired. Switch to outline again, because that thing is a wreck by now. Don't toss it, edit it. You didn’t come all this way just to come all this way, did you?
“Then Elrond and Galadriel rode on; for the Third Age was over and the Days of the Rings were passed and an end was come of the story and song of those times.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King