I'm currently in the revision phase of this novel. I've finished the first draft. I took my break and let the story rest. Then I went through the whole thing a few hundred-thousand times (give or take) until I felt it was ready for the eyes of my beta readers.
I got my first crit back about a week ago and had the normal reaction of, WOW I CAN'T BELIEVE I SUCK SO HARD AT THIS WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER? After numbing the initial sting with a few tubs of ice cream, I could see which suggestions I agreed with and which I didn't, what to ignore and what to change. Those are cake.
Uhm... did someone say "cake and ice cream"?
The real trouble comes in when I receive comments and suggestions that I'm not sure what to do with. This is usually because I know the person giving the critique has made a valid point, something needs to change, but I'm frustrated because I don't know how to fix the issue.
At that point I have to step away for a while. I can't sort things out by forcing my face into it--that only works when there's cake involved. This doesn't mean it hasn't taken residence in the back of my head, though. I may not have looked at my ms for a solid week, but I had a hard time thinking about much else.
In the meantime, The Hubby, The Boy, and I went to see Brave. Overall, I liked the movie. I thought some things could have been done better, but this is Disney-Pixar. Even a "meh, could have been better" movie from them is still a professional product. And as a professionally written film it adheres to basic story structure.
My ms is not unstructured-- I made sure of that when I drafted the original outline. The problem, I discovered, is that Act I is missing something vital. Something that isn't on the framework of my outline, per se, but is crucial just the same.
It's called an adhesive. And it usually comes into play just before the catalyst. The adhesive is arguably the most important part of your setup.
As much as I love Blake Snyder's beat sheet for working out my story structure, you won't find anything about an adhesive in Save the Cat! You'll find it in another great book I highly recommend for fiction writers (even if I don't talk about it quite as much as StC), Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. According to Bell,
An adhesive is any strong relationship or circumstance that holds people together.And here's the key,
If the Lead can solve the problem simply by resigning from the action, the reader will wonder why he doesn't do so.~Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, p. 81
The adhesive prevents the protagonist from taking an easy way out.
So combining the adhesive element with your catalyst should result in a clear reason WHY your protagonist is choosing to move forward in the way that he does. At the end of Act I, during what I call The Great Debate, it should feel like your protagonist has been backed into a corner and the only way out is to make a tough choice. This decision is what breaks the story into Act II, thrusts the characters into the meat of the premise with a sense of urgency.
Aaaand... when you're writing a contemporary romance, this is the point where you start to question your career choice. The story is about love and feelings and finding your soulmate and how do I-- rawr! Commence freakout in 3... 2... 1...
So let's get back to Brave and see how it was done there. Even though this story is heavily fantasy, the adhesive and the catalyst are not, in the physical sense, a matter of Life and Death. (why do I keep capitalizing those? is it more dramatic?)
What I'm about to say is not a spoiler, so please don't run away.
The adhesive in Brave involves Merida's strained relationship with her mother the queen. The catalyst is when her parents inform her that the other tribes are to present their first-born sons to compete for her betrothal. Merida wants nothing to do with this.
She can't just walk away from the situation, she has to face it head-on. Why? Because the adhesive is her position as princess, compounded by her mother's insistence that they stick to tradition and go through with the competition regardless of how Merida feels.
This is what pushes Merida to the breaking point, so that by the time the opportunity to possibly change her fate arises, she feels she must take advantage of it. And just as important as the adhesive itself is the fact that it has a conflict at its core-- the strong opposing viewpoints of Merida and her mother.
Will Merida die if she goes through with a traditional betrothal? Not physically, no. But what about psychologically? Remember that "death" for a character does not always mean "dead and buried."
After ruminating on all of this, I realized my protagonist had too many opportunities to simply step away from the problem and take the easy way out. It took me about an hour of feverish scribbling in my spiral notebook to fix this, but it was worth it. I found a plausible adhesive that gave my opening the urgency it was missing. I know the novel will be better for the changes I'm making.
This is why I have a love/hate relationship with revisions.