When I wrote my first book- or my first three books (yes, I'm the crazy dolt that starts right out trying to write something way to large and complex for their tiny newbie brain)- I did so without any real plot or structure. It was awesome because I could sit down for a few hours- note, I had no children at that time- and let the words just flow like water. The problem was that what made sense in my mind left my beta readers wondering if there was, you know, a point somewhere in all those words.
I then followed the advice of a published author I was stalking, which led me to read through "The Weekend Novelist." I picked up a lot of valuable habits from that book, but one of the most helpful has been their take on plotting. The book suggests that you draw a plot diagram, and they outline several styles depending on the direction your book is taking. For example, the first novel I tried this with worked really well with a three act structure drawn in a straight line rising from one corner of the page to the other. It's a good visual to remind you that actions and events should be building and increasing in momentum toward the final climax or conclusion of the story.
The next story followed sort of the same structure, but I broke it into four parts, with each having it's own rising and climax.
Today I began outlining another book, and I made up my own spin off of "The Weekend Novelist," idea of a mythic journey, which is a circular story that wraps around so that the character ends up back where they started, but changed in some way. I plotted this new story in a box. The top of the square is the character's day to day life, she then turns a corner and events cause her to descend into chaos, that would be the right side of the square. When she reaches the bottom, she turns another corner and comes out changed. The bottom of the square is drawn as she tries to find her feet and "fit" into her new identity. The final side is drawn ascending up from the bottom line as the character accepts who she is and turns the corner, shooting upward toward who she was meant to be.
Inside the box are all the potential sources of conflict for this character. I haven't completely fleshed it out yet, but I think I'm on to something.
I know that authors each have different ways of approaching their plotting. They use diagrams, white boards, sticky notes, and who knows what else. How do you do your plotting? Do you use the same diagram/plotting style each time (tried and true), or do you change it up?