I'm working on outlining (sort of) a story and could use some suggestions for working around some brick walls regarding the process. (I'm being deliberately vague about details because the story isn't ready to share yet and I don't want to give anything away before I'm ready to.)
The gist of what I have so far:
Setting: Your basic fantasy world where magic works. Act zero: A Macguffin is taken. Act 1: The protagonists go on a quest to get it and return it. Act 2: The journey there is difficult. Act 3: The Macguffin is acquired. Act 4: The journey back is difficult. Act 5: The protagonists return as heroes (at least partially, depending on the decisions they make throughout the story).
So far, so good.
I think I have the assignation of the quest mostly taken care of, the journey there is definitely taken care of, the acquisition of the Macguffin is workable so far (even if I'm not currently totally happy with it), and the journey back is coming together. Unfortunately, what I have so far is not really much of a plot, it's a reporting of events. While the individual events might be somewhat interesting, there isn't much there there.
The main problem I'm running into is when the story's climax should be, and what form it should take. I don't really have a working "theme" at this point, which makes it harder to pick something towards which to point the characters and tell when events have hit the climax after which everything else is "happily ever after" denoument and wrap up. The climax can't be the acquisition of the Macguffin, because there's too much story left after that (and due to the nature of the story, the return trip can't really be hand-waved away with a superficial summary). If it happens towards the end of Act 4, then Act 5 can be a coming home party & the endgame, which is basically what I currently have marked out. If it happens sometime in Act 5, that gives Act 5 some oomph that it's currently lacking. In short, I'm lost.
Also, does anyone have any suggestions for the sorts of elements that make for a good, satisfying climax for a story? If anyone has any suggestions for a basic theme & plot, I'm open to suggestions on that side, too. :) I'm not looking for people to write the story for me, I'm just trying to gather ideas & inspirations that I am sorely lacking internally. I hope if I see some ideas from people who are better at this than I am, and see some of the behind the scenes processes at work, something will click (or at least stick) enough for me to see what needs doing for the story to turn out well.
I know I'm overthinking things (because I always do), but I'm trying to avoid falling into the same pitfalls I've seen in other stories I've read (and have seen decried in various reviews)--such as the story that's all flash and atmosphere without an actual story, the story that builds up and then just sort of peters out with a whimper, the story that muddles around without any real sense of direction and then suddenly ends, and so forth--and come up with a story that people will want to read and might even remember five minutes after finishing.
A side problem is how to decide on character motivation/actions when the characters don't/can't "talk" to you. I have enough problems just choosing something off a menu at a restaurant, let alone deciding how someone *else* would act and what they would say in a given situation. How do you approach that? What do you find works for you?
Also, while I'm thinking of this sort of thing, how do you go about deciding the direction a particular story should go in? At this point, I don't think I even have enough plot-sense to write a coherent 100 word Thunderbolts fanfic for jim_smith, and those characters already have established backstories, motivations, and characterizations--and with the way I normally write, 100 words would only be about three to four sentences.
Any & all ideas, suggestions, comments, etc. will be appreciated.
Feudalism: Serf & Turf