"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see."
I can't attribute breaking through my writer's block to only putting my novel aside for a few weeks. Over the past month, as I tried writing - or working through my writing - in my head, I realized I was stuck because I still needed to know more about my characters, specific details about their past and not just generalities.
Developing my character sketches is one route, but I'm taking Ginger's advice (from a comment posted to an earlier post), and developing stories out of my character's background/history.
Right now, I'm working on Anne's childhood, specifically a story about dealing with the pain of losing her mother when she was eight-years-old. Ideas keep bubbling over, of things I should include, of things that will affect who she will become when she turns 18 and goes to Paris - and learns that what she once thought about her mother's death was completely false.
The issue I'm running into now is the complete opposite. I feel like I have too much information to include in the short story. (Don't get me wrong; I'd take this "obstacle" any day). Where does this story begin? End? Do I include Anne's struggles in making friends, partially due to her mother raising Anne to speak French and not English? Since I know her mother isn't really dead, as Anne believes, do I hint at it? Do I use third-person or first? (Since my novel is in third-person, I'm inclined to use that, but as I write this first short story of many, I find myself shifting back and forth between third and first... which is interesting considering the novel and how Anne switches between her own perspective and Charlotte's... definitely something to think about more).
My solution - for now - is to get down everything I can, and then start chopping the really unnneccesary stuff (and putting it in a separate file for possible later use in my novel).
It's interesting, "getting to know" characters, delving into their pasts, their histories, as if they existed. I once heard that a professor/author had a conversation with a passenger in his car late at night. It wasn't until he got home that he realized he was talking to a "character" from his novel. Creepy - in that he was really talking to himself, but interesting - in that all writers, I think, need to be able to "speak" to their characters, know how they'd react and what they'd say in any given situation, if they are really going to develop and depict characters that readers can truly believe in.
So, for me, I'm looking backwards, developing my character's backgrounds even more so that I can move forward in my character's life.
Sidenote: If anyone knows who that author was, that had that "conversation" with his character, please remind me, because it's really bothering me that I don't remember!