Make them Talk!
Sometimes if you can’t come with anything that feels original and exciting, it’s best just to let two of your characters talk, and see what they say! Let Jimmy tell Frank about the robbery he wants to commit. Let Alice tell Jan about her promotion. Let the President scold her chief of staff for the latest political disaster. Let your characters do all the work for you, and let them take on a life of their own!
Writing is Conflict
Ever heard that line? It’s probably mostly true. Probably. Ernest Hemingway said the closest analogy for story he could think of was watching dogs race around a track after the same objective. A great writing exercise championed by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame is to have one character ask another character for money, and have the other character refuse to pay up. Here is the essence of drama, as you watch one character attempt a variety of tactics to achieve their objective, and the other character use their own tactics to evade. Figure out the central conflict of your scene!
Develop sense of Place!
Many authors, like Tim Winton, describe the way they start with a place, and almost discover the characters there, and then simply follow them on their journeys through the landscape. Have a very detailed understanding of the setting of your novel will give you lots of clues about how the character might operate in that world. Especially if the world starts impinging on their lives – think of any scene where characters are caught outside in the rain, or are caught deep inside Russian territory as the winter cold arrives!
Think of a Problem
Still stuck? Think of a problem, and how your character might solve it. Take Breaking Bad for instance. Walter White is a down and out high school teacher with cancer and no way to pay his medical bills and support his family once he’s gone. How’s he going to solve that problem? By becoming the greatest drug baron in Northern America, that’s how!