I was talking to my friend Alex the other day, and she told me a pearl of wisdom about plotting, especially when writing for children.
Put your character in trouble, make it worse, then make it better.
Other people have put it differently: think about what your character wants, then think about what’s keeping them from what they want. Both of those make sense, but there’s still the question of pacing.
Writer Nancy Lee taught my friend Hanako that a novel should start with an inciting incident in which the main character’s character is revealed. By the middle of the story the character is closest to what he or she wants; it’s within grasp, but then they lose it. And at the end of the story, they have their crisis–their dark night of the soul, before there is finally some resolution.
Sounds so easy–but of course it’s not. At least these thoughts give some guidelines though.