It's been a while...
I finished the third draft of the story, and I still have a lot of work to do. Some things are going much better, some things are the same, and some things I still can't figure out at all.
Why? Why why why???
The problem with giving your characters independence is that they do stuff. I don't get a lot of it. This would be a great story if I could just figure it out.
For instance, the other day I figured out what the story was about. Two years until it clicked.
There's this brilliant kid, someone who isn't smart, per se, but who's very creative, and he lives in a place where he can't do anything with it. What does he do? It's something I saw over and over again in South Dakota: leave, hide, or burn out. In a way the answer I came up with is sad; the one guy that didn't do the above had to save the world to earn the right to be himself (Dennis). The others leave (Jordan), burn out (Kyle), or hide (Crusher). (Kyle's not from the same place, but he's in the same situation.)
The next draft I'm going to work on something I picked up from reading some of Doyce's stuff, i.e., scene and character details, and try to pry some more insight out of the damn thing.
Right now I'm taking a break -- I don't think it's going to last very long. I moped around the house all day until I sat down to edit, at which point I felt like living again.