From Writers in the Storm:
I’ve always been drawn to writing science fiction and fantasy, which means that I’ve written a lot of first drafts based on “cool ideas” but no real conflict. Sure, I had a sense of what the problems were, and maybe even a few key scenes unfolding in my mind, but the books were about the idea, not characters with specific problems.
No surprise, those drafts never got beyond the first draft.
Many a novel has been started with a vague idea and a lot of pages that explain why that idea is so cool. They’re even well-written novels, but in the end, they fail because there’s no point to them and no problem driving the plot.
. . . .
Take a look at your current manuscript. What’s the problem of the novel? Is it a specific, concrete problem to solve (such as catch a killer, find the money to save the farm, defeat the evil wizard before she enslaves the realm) or is it a vague issue (such as find love, learn to rely on yourself, show how X came to pass)?
If the point of the novel is a vague issue, odds are you’re going to have trouble writing the first draft, because there’s nothing for the protagonist to do. Without a problem to solve, there’s no plot.
. . . .
Here is a template to help you evaluate. Test your novel and fill in the [bracketed information] of this statement:
My novel is about [the protagonist] who [has a problem], because [the reason the problem exists]. To fix it, [the protagonist] must [risk something of value] and [specific action that has to be done to resolve the problem] or [what happens if they fail].
My novel is about [Lisa] who [is part of a government experiment], because [she was born with a special gene that allows her to sense emotions]. To fix it, [Lisa] must [risk her life and defy her government] and [make people aware of what’s being done to people like her] or [they’ll kill her].
Can you tell what this book is about?
There’s a general sense, but the specific plot isn’t there, because “defy her government” is a vague idea, not a problem to resolve. Her “problem” is also that she was born with a special gene. There’s nothing here that says how that’s affecting her life or what problem she has because of that gene.
Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm