So, I was reading back through what I had written for Way of the Shield, trying to figure out what wasn't working, and why it wasn't. I am still most likely to keep my attention focused on Banshee, but the problems with Shield are now becoming clear.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that I was thinking more about the long-game instead of this book as it's own standalone. There were choices that, in essence, I wasn't letting myself make because they weren't fitting my predetermined plan. It was the writing equivalent of not moving any chess pieces because I was saving them for later.
And the real problem with that boiled down to this: that's not who Dayne was. Dayne is the throw-himself-on-a-grenade type. And in not writing the story with that same hell-bent care, it wasn't working.
This is, of course, the potential problem with outlining in general: letting it be a trap. I know more often than not I've caught myself thinking, "I can't have that, because it goes against [future plot point that I haven't actually written yet]." Why was I beholden to that? Because I had a plan.
Now, this tends to be the argument of those who prefer not to outline: if I outline, then I'm STUCK. I'm LOCKED ON THE PATH.
And this isn't true. But it is sometimes challenging to see that straying from the path can lead to a clearer road once you're already lost in the woods.
The other problem I was having stems, to a degree, from the outline as well, in that in the outline, my antagonists were not well-defined. So, at least in this work-in-progress rough draft, they were coming off as one-dimensional strawmen. They were just wrong people who were wrong in thinking wrong things wrongly. They were only the heroes of their own story if you accept that their story was about stupid people. And that's not interesting.
So that's my challenge, before diving back into that project (eventually): figuring out who the antagonists REALLY are, and from that, how they'll implement their goals, and what the consequences of them doing that are. And to be willing to have real consequences hit my protagonists.
Because, when it comes down to it, I was essentially protecting a "status quo" that doesn't really exist yet. Why do that?