The freewrites did the trick.
For one thing, it's always a relief to do some low stakes writing every now and then, and the task is aptly named, for it is indeed freeing. For another thing, it was fun to write in character and answer questions as if she was on a talk show or in a magazine or something. I didn't worry about wrong answers, nor did I give the answers much thought as I was writing them. In fact, if any answer required me to stop and think about it, I didn't answer it.
And yet, sooner or later we got to those tougher questions and answers. After the fact, when the writing was done and we switched to being readers.
I started w/ questions that had been one of the key points of criticism from my writers group -- my protag is a professor-turned-cafe owner, and they couldn't see the connection, the previous experience, or the relevency. So those were the questions I started with: Why did you become a professor? Why did you leave? Do you miss it? How does one differ from the other? Etc. I liked how she answered, and it made me feel better about keeping this character aspect in, as well as gave me ideas to show its significance.
The second, of course, had to do w/ love interest. I posed the question, If you were the last woman on earth, and these four guys (I'll not name them here -- you know me and my superstitions about revealing too much of a novel in progress) were the last men on earth, who would you end up with? I love that her immediate reaction was, "What the hell kind of question is that? And which one of them put you up to it?" I also loved when, while being a little evasive, she asked, "Do we at least have cable tv?"
But that freewrite in particular elicited the most discussion between my writing partner and me (in fact, she she too a break from studying for exams just to talk about it), because I think it revealed the missing links to why these relationships weren't working on the page. It not only clarified what she wanted, but what we wanted. And, yet again, it helped us to re-see the possibilities for conflict, comedy, and resolution. It's all about the revision.
Isn't writing so much fun? :)