I checked out Helene Boudreau's blog today to see what she had to say about plotting. Plenty of Very Good Ideas, as it turns out. My favourite was her comment about the Three Little Pigs. The lightbulb went on with that one.
So, here's my take on how to plot, using the Three Little Pigs model.
Introduction: Meet the pigs (the protagonists -- you need at least one), who need a place to live, safe from the Big Bad Wolf (the antagonist -- you need one of these). There's conflict between the characters: they can't agree on building materials. (Ordinary stuff to help suspend disbelief) The pigs agree to disagree, and each build their own house, setting the scene for later drama.
Next, we meet the Big Bad Wolf. He's hungry (understandable motivation, which adds depth and subtlety to portrayal of antagonist) Bad Thing #1 happens: the Big Bad Wolf destroys straw house. Subplot: Pig A goes to live with Pig B.
Then, Bad Thing #2 happens: the Big Bad Wolf destroys the stick house . This is worse than Bad Thing #1 (builds tension). The subplot also progresses, as Pig A and Pig B must move in with Pig C.
Finally, the Climax: the Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf have their showdown. The Wolf gets what is coming to him, the brick house stands, and the Pigs resolve their domestic issues (thereby taking care of the subplot) and live happily ever.
1. Introduce conflict early.
2. Give your protagonist and your antagonist realistic motivations for their actions.
3. Make things go from bad to worse before you let them get better.
4. Tie your subplots to your main plot.
5. Make sure everyone gets what they deserve.