A lot goes into making a really good plot. It's hard work and takes a great deal of reconsideration. When you spy your own work with a critical eye you get the closest glimpse you can get to what your reader will see. Even if they are the forgiving sort of reader that will bark just because you command them to, the back of their minds will still know when something is amiss or awry - when a plot hole opens or a decision hits air on that shark in a jetski. This is my method for developing stories; ask questions.
This works when helping others too. When I sit down with a writer friend who is having trouble with their story I start by asking questions. They're sometimes obvious questions, sometimes more specific, but in the process of figuring out the answers the friend comes to understand a little bit more about the world that lives in their head. I like it when other people ask me questions about my world or my characters... part of me knows everything there is to know about Threadcaster Land and sometimes the answers that come out of my mouth are news to me, too. Like someone asked "How does a Wind Curse die?" and I answered, "They're turning to air so they're wasting away." and the other asked "Does that make them short of breath?"
Hadn't considered that before... but yes, yes it would. If Water Curses have coughs because the water is filling their lungs then why shouldn't the Wind Curses have athezma and the Fire Curses have heartburn? There's no reason for them not to. Right now I'm asking myself the questions "Why don't Earth Curses spit rocks?" to which my mind answers, "I don't know, Jen, why DONT they spit rocks?" Look forward to seeing at least one person sneeze a cloud of dust when we get to Earth Town.
I decided to ramble about this question thing because I've hit a snag in the revising (I don't have time to do it) so instead i've been brainstorming the next couple steps in the story. We're rapidly approaching the end as far as outline is concerned, but the outline was written years ago and things need to be changed. To solve this, I got out the old pen and paper and started writing my steam of consciousness:
Where do we go next:? Why do we go into town when Cat knows it's dangerous there? What if they go straight to the Curses instead of going through town first? Weigh options: two columns Positive and Negative.
Positives: Excuses the fact I can't figure out a reason for them to go.
Excuses the fact I can't figure out what to do with them once they get there
Speeds the story up where it needs to go fast.
Negatives: Astonage is kind of an important location for our epic past, it'd be a shame not to see it
We have a letter to deliver there - but is that important enough to send the whole party AND the
quest into danger? No, no it's not.
Thinking about this problem presented me with a solution; what if Cat goes in alone. She wouldn't risk everyone to deliver a letter... and a promise would be enough to get her in and out quickly. It also adds variety to the City-town combo we've done three times previously, and gives Cat a chance to choose to do something on her own as opposed to begging Pete to go along with her as she's done all the way to this point.
So there's a solution to that... which poses another query. I know what she'll find while she's there... but what will she get out of her visit? She shouldn't do anything if it doesn't move her toward her ultimate goal. She has to find something in town to help her. This leads me thinking about the next location, the kind of environment they're headed toward and who they will inevitably meet there. To spare anyone else my train of thought, I came up with a satisfactory solution through asking myself questions, making positive/negative columns for comparison and writing the word SOLUTION really big and cockeyed on the page. It's a system that works for me... maybe it will help you other writers out there as well.