There are many schools of thought on that. Some people develop their plots on the fly. Others plan it down to the smallest detail. I’m somewhere in the middle. I plan my plots, describe the scenes, and write the scenes as though I were writing each as a separate story. Then I go over the complete story, add in details, and blend the scenes. I look on it a little like sculpting. You start with a certain size block of material, soap, wood, marble – whatever you want to imagine. You make sketches on the side of the block and carve out the rough shape. Then you add the details that make the sculpture work. That’s how I plot.
As I said, that’s not the only way to do it. What works for me is not what might work for you. There is no right or wrong way to write a story. If you are reading tons of how-to books to learn how to write a story – stop. Write the story. Make an outline of the plot, if that’s what you are comfortable doing and just write the story. Don’t worry if your first draft is crap, just write the story. You can always rewrite it. Getting the story down in the first place is the main thing. The rest is revision.
Plotting is no different. I’ve used flow charts, outlines, and lately I’ve found a writing aid called a beat sheet at Story Fix, which is a blog about writing. That sounds like a good idea, too. All a beat sheet is, is a list of actions that must take place in the story. Interspersed in the list, are your story points. You need to figure out what your story points are and then list the action that has to take place to reach them. You can think of them as mile (or kilometer) markers on a highway. You can’t get to where you are going if you don’t know where you are going. The beat sheet is a bare bones outline and that is all it is. Sometimes the story wants to twist a little bit more, that’s ok, but don’t get lost in the bushes on your way to the conclusion. You might find yourself miles off track and that will make editing a nightmare. Even people who don’t outline have a vague idea of where they want to end up. the beat sheet can get you there. At the very least, it can tell you how far off you are.
I can’t say that I have used a beat sheet as yet, but I might use it on a future story that I am in the planning stages of. It can help bring things together, although I must admit that I don’t see room for any subplots in a beat sheet, unless you do one for each subplot, which could work. I’ll write more about beat sheet after I’ve had time to work with one.