In Part I of this post, I think I may have dwelt too much on the issue of designing a crucible for the protagonist. The fact is, everybody in the story needs to be contained in the crucible, including the antagonist, and all the spear carriers, and the love interest, and tous les ballons de Paris.
The parameters controlling the antagonist are aften the worst-defined: Because he's evil or crazy or foreign or all three seems to be enough. (Though, come to think of it, at the end of The Red Balloon, I find the bullies believable, but I'm not sure I understand the motivation of all the other balloons.)
Actually, I think the typical parameters are what make most books in the thriller genre so damn dull. Usually it's a case of someone, often square-jawed, whose job it is to prevent someone evil and/or crazy and/or foreign from doing something utterly shocking, like...yawn...killing the President. Or there's a formula for, umm, lessee here, yeah, a mind-control drug, that in the wrong hands (which, as far as I can see, would be any hands--with the possible exception of mine), and, with this formula, the bad guys could....ummm......sorry. I fell asleep for a minute there.
Watch out now, I'm going to whine. You're warned. (You were forewarned in Part I, Neil.)
The book in which I'm presently buried--and I use that verb in the most Edgar-Allen-Poe sense--is turning into a crucible nightmare. There's so many options; there's so much wiggle room. There's no MacGuffin. (By which I mean there's no neatly defined object/objective which everyone is seeking or seeking to destroy/avert. For Hitchcock purists, we can delay for another time whether a MacGuffin can actually cover that much turf, or whether a MacGuffin by definition must not have much real meaning to the story other than as a motivator.)
I'm happier when at least some of the characters in my story are stuffed into a physically confined situation. But I'm walking into a situation with this book where the scope is rather unconfined, with big forces in big spaces--and plenty of opportunities, to return to the crucible, for the characters to hang up their hats and go do something sensible. The plot of the book is turning into an inverted Heart of Darkness, but it's spilling onto a War and Peace scale of canvas, and it's really beginning to unnerve me. (I have grown beards at various times, but Tolstoy I'm not. At least he had the crucible of historical movements of military forces to do some of his work for him. Slacker.)
And has anyone noticed how the advent of mobile phones and satellite phones has really screwed up storytelling? So many stories consist of someone needing to convey information to someone and racing against time to do so (gloriously unsucessfully in the case of the Peter Weir film Gallipoli). I mean, where would we be if, after the Battle of Marathon, the fabled Greek runner could have just flipped open his cell phone and let everybody know the outcome? (Of course, when he finished his legendary run, he managed to gasp out his message and then died, which makes me wonder why anyone ever ran a marathon since. It's hardly an auspicious start to the tradition.)
I'm rambling. The point is, this book is killing me. (They usually do.) But I'm not even sure it's a thriller, which is what I set out to write.
The good news is that wrestling with this book has made two other thrillers half-plot themselves in my head, which is 100% more plot than I usually have when I start. If this one doesn't start co-operating, I'm going to write one of the other two.
That'll show it.