Look. I don't have all the answers. All I know for sure is that James Wymore has the secret location of Lincoln's Gold written down in his daytimer. He's just forgotten where he put the thing.
Other than that, this entire process is just what works for me. We're almost done, so let's get into the final, optional step.
Stage Four: Dramatica
At this point, I open Dramatica. I go through it step by step. Including the part I did during stage zero, this can take me twenty or more hours on a short book. When I get to the Scene Design, I use my one line scene descriptions to fill out every scene.
After this point, Dramatica has me go through and assign certain story drivers and events to scenes. For instance, all the dynamically paired characters get at least three interaction scenes where they conflict on viewpoint. I also assign tertiary elements: such as when I’m going to tackle my themes and when I’m going to bring out crucial story elements (like whether the Main Character is a do-er or a be-er.) I’ll probably hit these items more often in the actual writing, but this makes sure I do it at least the minimum amount necessary to make my point.
When I’ve assigned all of these, I will make another pass on all the scenes. This time I actually try to flush them out into a coherent story. I look at the story drivers I’ve included and try to understand how they will come out in the scene. This will turn my one line into a short, narrative description for each scene. In this stage I also make sure that I fill in the last of those placeholder spots. (Although sometimes I discovery-write parts of the climax...that’s just a personal preference).
Then I’m done. I print out or export my story treatment report from Dramatica and I have my plot outline. Then I start writing (or more likely I continue writing, because I often finish this process after I’ve written the first chapter. :) ).
That’s it. You have now walked down the deep labyrinth of my plotting process. If you have lost you mind, take it up with your local Elder God.
It’s important to think Outside the Box. It might seem like this method pegs you into certain inevitabilities, but really it just forces you to cover your bases. You still have to take these ideas and present them in a new and interesting way. This process doesn’t, for instance, give you your act II twists. It doesn’t tell you what your end of act Revelation is. It just reminds you that if you skip these elements, your book will probably be a lot more boring than if you don’t.
It’s especially important to be creative during Stage One. This is when you brainstorm all your best ideas. This is when the creative juices really need to flow. I usually don’t even start stage one until I have a lot of these ideas in place. I know most of the secrets of my plot, most of the twists and maybe even turns. I have a pretty good idea of the general shape in my mind. I've probably been thinking about it for months.
But I don’t stop there. I force myself to brainstorm new ideas, to try to push my plotting envelope. I try to think about would surprise the audience most and what would surprise the audience least. I try to arrange things to hold the former in front of the audience while I get ready to smack them with the latter. Of course, this means I have to walk a fine line between revealing my secrets too early and making things different enough to keep them interested, but that’s a matter for another post.