Today is Plotfest, which is a blogging event hosted by Scribble and Edit at http://scribbleandedit.blogspot.com/ . I found out about this through Dianne Salerni, who I follow here: http://diannesalerni.blogspot.com .
Plotfest is a day where different writerly bloggers discuss how they plot their stories! Well. I have a few things I can say on this matter, 'cause I have tried maaaaaany different methods.
1) Literally just writing names and drawing lines. For my first NaNoWriMo novel, I decided to write a murder mystery based on this basic premise: what if the man holding a community together was suddenly removed? And, even worse, what if it was because he killed himself? Of course, it was a murder mystery so you learn pretty quickly that he didn't kill himself. But because the community I had in mind was a knotted web of people, I knew everything had to connect and a plot had to still shine through. So I wrote out a web of characters and then drew lines between them without knowing much about them. Then when I went to write the novel, I had a lot of material because I just had to come up with the reason why Person X was connected to Person Y and why Person Y was connected to Persons A and B. It was a really fun method. Did the novel make much sense? Not at first. But I went back and edited it about a year later, and I think it actually became decent. Or at least fun, and comprehensible.
2) The bell graph. The cousin of my previous method, this is the graph that you probably had to draw in school. You know, Conflict, Climax, Resolution - and when you got into the higher grades, they started throwing around words like "denouement." I'm a very visual person, so graphs like these help me out. If I know my character needs to go from A to B to C, then getting there isn't as hard. Everything that happens has more purpose than if I let the characters wander aimlessly for a while (which is also a method I tried, and will not be making the list). Often my story changes from the chart. In a novel I'm working on now, I scrapped the final scene, which I'd written a long time ago, because it didn't feel like the right ending anymore. Instead, I wrote a similar scene with a different result - and put it back in the Conflict, near the start of the novel, not as the end. Funny how things turn out like that.
3) Faulkner-esque stream of consciousness. This is honestly the closest method to how I compose music. You just kind of channel the emotions into your fingers and let go. But with novel-writing, I get stuck more easily on this method. Unless it's really helping me build a character or a landscape, I tend to feel a pointlessness to the whole thing eventually if I start like that. But, it is a good place to start. Sometimes you don't know what the good part of your novel is until you have a lot of bad stuff to cut out of it.
4) Drawings. As I've mentioned before, I find it helpful to draw (er, maybe more like doodle) my characters if I'm having trouble visualizing them, or if I just want to feel more connected to them. Sometimes I'll draw characters in whatever situation I feel like. If I like the drawing enough, I might work it into my plot by creating a story around that scenario I've just drawn them into.
5) "Name, age, place of birth.." A few years ago, I discovered the wonders of the character sheet. They're those fill-in-the-blank questionnaires for your characters so you can learn all the trivial background stuff about them, in case it ever comes up. One time I was doing this for a farm boy character, and I knew that his least favorite food was escargot. "But when would he have ever been in a situation where he could have tried that?" A story began to bud from there...
Those are the methods I have found most effective. They might not work for everyone, but I like having options in case I ever get stuck.
Which of these have you tried? What else do you try to do?