I'm sending out a PSA to say that after reading this, you might be questioning my sanity a little more than you probably already do. So. Just warning ya'll.
Try talking to them.
I know what you're thinking, "Rae, I can't have an open conversation with them. People will think I'm crazy!"
News: if people don't already think you're crazy, you're probably doing this whole writerly thing wrong.
Here's where this is coming from: I've been working on my WIP for a little over a year, now; unfortunately, not consecutively. The last two semesters of college took a lot of writing time away from me, so it's mostly been during the summer/winter break. But still. I'm on my third draft (well, draft 3.5; don't have me get into why have so many half-drafts. It just kind of happens), and I was working on beginning this most recent drat in December when I was completely stuck. I mean: something was so strangely wrong with my WIP that I couldn't figure out what in the world I was doing wrong. It was maddening, and no amount of talking with my CP was helping to fix it. The really scary thing was: it was the first time ever that I doubted myself with this idea.
So, finally, I said, "Rae, we're going to go have a conversation with Moe." (Moe's one of two main characters, and she's a doll when she isn't being mean to me).
And here's what some of that conversation looks like:
Me: Okay, Moe. Obviously I'm doing something wrong with the beginning of your story. Any ideas?
Moe: *snorts*I'm a thief. And Hadley and I don't work well together. You've got it right, there-
Me: Yeah, but...Come on, Moe, this doesn't feel at least a little fishy?
Moe: Well...I mean, if you really want to get technical: Jackson. don't get me wrong, I like him-
Me: You *like* him?
Moe: /blushes/ He's genuine, okay? But, still. I don't want anything to do with Hadley, *or* her life. How the hell do you expect us to meet? What makes you think I'd give him the time of day?
Me: Huh...I think you've actually got a point there.
Moe: And for that matter, Kara's *smart*. She's not stupid. How the hell do you think me or Hadley could keep Hadley's work from her for *three years*? I get that she was only eleven when Mom died and all, but seriously? Give her more credit than that. And Hadley's hangovers, really? If she's supposedly so good at hiding her inebriation then why the hell would she be mumbling shit to me when I'm dragging her ass home? It's lazy plot filling. Lazy hints. I can figure shit out on my own.
Me: ...Inebriation's a really big word....
And it went on like that for a total of 2200 words, most of which was Moe criticizing me and calling me an idiot. And I realize that a lot of the above conversation probably doesn't make sense to ya'll (it makes perfect sense to me, which is kind of the point), but what I really want to point out is the fact that my own character called me out on lazy plot filling. She called me a lazy plot filler. My own freaking character.
But you know what? She was right. I re-looked at a lot of things from my beginning, and a lot of things I was able to find through this conversation with my character were actually huge problems. Moe pointed out that one character was worthless and had no reason being in my plot whatsoever, and another was being treated as major when, in this point in time, he's actually pretty minor.
Here's the thing: as strange as it sounds, your characters know the world of your novel a heck of a lot better than you do. So sit down, have a conversation with them. See what happens when you're not busy making their life miserable. I recommend either writing it by hand, or (if you're like me and need to be typing it) use an incredibly simple word processing program like Notepad: you don't need fancy bells and whistles for this.
Chat with your character, ask them questions, let them call you out on the places you're being lazy and where you should reconsider things, or where you're getting a character completely wrong. Who knows? It might just help you in the end.