Here's how it works. Every book starts out as a nebulous idea. "Hey, what
if..." If you think it through a hair more, it becomes the premise: a character in a situation who wants something, and there stands in the way of that want an antagonist or situation, which will result in some catastrophe if the want is not achieved.
The plot is a mere extension of that. How do you get your characters out of their comfortable mundane existences and give them the conflict so they can arrive at the solution and avoid the catastrophe? That's a plot. Getting them from point A all the way through to point Z.
Somewhere in there, you have a few turning points, a few sex scenes, the infamous Black Moment when all seems lost, the epiphany when they have their revelation, and finally their resolution/HEA.
Lucynda Storey, Lizzie T Leaf and I have been to several classes, some dealing with the Plot W made famous by the movie industry and "The Writer's Journey" by Christopher Vogler. We also went to other classes detailing versions of this, including the so-called plot grids. Each, by themselves, helped. Finally, we made an amalgamate of them in our plot grid I use today. (Lucynda's is a little different. We modified to fit our own particular style of doing things.)
Still, it all comes back to the same old thing you were probably taught in school about creating an outline or list of your plan, which is modifiable right up until you typed "The End" on any given book report or term paper.
I'll upload my fancy grid in the files, but here's the simplified list:
1. Inciting incident for the main POV character. What happened that day/minute when life began to change for them?
2. Inciting incident for main love interest. Same thing.
3. Secondary character's emotional hook. Lucynda and I differ here, and that's okay. I may introduce the villain's POV, I may give the reader a taste of what the love interest is feeling/doing. The point is, make this an emotional chapter with a very strong hook at the end. Give this chapter some punch.
4. New Evidence- this is the chapter where the characters, who have been resisting the change in their lives, get their first hard clue that they must change. The information can come from any source, including a mentor (Paging Master Yoda!) or a simple television news show. Whatever. Make 'em think!
5. Main POV Hook, using the evidence for change. This is your first big chance to put the thumbscrews to your main POV character and make them agonize a little. They know they must change, they still don't like it, but dammit, something's got to give and they know it. This hook is driven usually by the outer conflict.
6. Decision to Act. Force the decision. The characters are still squirming like fish on a hook, but they must do something.
7. Easy challenge. Give 'em a chance to fight a little. A chance to do something.
8. Secondary character's hook- Begin to focus on the inner conflict. Give the reader more than a mere taste that this HURTS the characters. Show a little inner agony. I use this to make sure the reader feels sympathy for some poor bastard besides the main POV character. Maybe the love interest. Maybe the villain is not all that evil, or he has plausible reasons for being the antagonist.
9. Have I made a mistake? Make the characters question all that has happened, their choices, their growing feelings for the love interest, and show that inner conflict. Give all the good reasons, pro and con.
10. Main POV Hook to show inner conflict. Put the thumbscrews back on the main POV character and tighten them down. Make them hurt. Have a fight with their love interest, rack of the tension before they hop in the sack, and make them agonize again.
11. The Innermost Cave- They have the major sex scene, the get the big clue, or they think they've caught the criminal, but give 'em a little happiness. Rest the reader with love, joy, and good nookie.
12. Stop and smell the roses- Have a smoke after the sex scene, take a walk in the garden, and let 'em think life is grand for a little bit.
13. Things begin to go sour/Secondary character hook- Start ratcheting up the tension again, by degrees. Wait, is that new evidence you might have the wrong guy? Hey, stupid characters, you still have to bring the treasure back and it won't be easy, you are NOT resolved.
14. The worst turn so far- the criminal they caught is not the right one, the villain has laid a trap, and things are getting ugly. Ratchet up the tension another notch.
15. Main POV Hook to lead up to the Black Moment- Rut-roh...get ready to drop the characters into hell. At the end of this chapter, they have their first ugly glimpse of just how bad things are. Rip out their guts and twist.
16. Black Moment- All seems lost, and make 'em cry. You've ripped out their guts. Now stomp HARD. If you haven't made the reader weep, scream, and cry by now, then here's where you do it. Your goal is to make misery your friend.
17. Get out of the Black Moment- give them some plausible means to heal the hurts, get out of the torture, and get on with things. You can't cry forever, baby, now get mad. Then, get even. Put the spine back in 'em. Make them shake their fist at the sky like Scarlet O'Hara declaring she will never be hungry again.
18. More Challenges or Secondary Characters' Hook- Make sure the reader knows the antagonist is going to get his just desserts, the big mental epiphany is going to happen, something that says the characters are going to win, if only they can
19. Return with the Elixir- vanquish the villain, get the girl back, and good will triumph. Ratchet it up so the reader is cheering for the triumph.
20. Wrap it all up and tie on the Bow- Tie up any remaining loose ends, show the HEA, and make sure the characters are shown to be happy in their new reality.
Notice it's an emotional roller coaster as much as a journey? It's just a plan, not the story. Things will change. Nevertheless, this just keeps you on track toward the goal, nothing more. Watch for these in movies and TV shows. (They are very clear in Star Wars and the Wizard of Oz, for example.)
Pantsers, this is your list. If you are ever stuck and beating your head against the wall called "writer's block," this is your checklist out. Use the list or the chart to tick off that you have done all you could to/for your characters. You may discover that you've skipped several steps, have an epiphany, and be able to move on with fresh insight. Or not. Sometimes the missing creative spark is not here, but within the characters themselves. Go back and check their POV's, goals, motivations, and conflicts.