I have my hero and heroine, and their antagonist, physical or ethical. I have a setting. I have an everyday life (starting point) and a goal on the horizon. Now I have to invent interesting hurdles.
In my first two novels, I followed my muse's lantern as it bobbed in front of me like a carrot on a stick. I fell into sagging middles. I meandered into dead ends. Constantly, I needed to backtrack to upgrade already written pages to match a just-conceived twist in my plot.
To wit: who better to force an unwilling hero back to his rich and powerful family than a beloved younger sister who arrives unannounced on the woolly frontier desperate for help in finding her kidnapped secret fiance? Oops, my only child hero now has a sibling. Go back and correct pages 45, 83, and 144.
Midway through story: A middle brother! He could covet my hero's place in their patriarch's heart and would be able to intercept mail and therefore believably sabotage my hero's efforts to find beloved younger sister's betrothed. Oh, he will be summarily rejected by said patrician family due to his low station. Backtrack and write in middle brother. And opinion of patrician of the lower classes.
I freely admit that I love epic sagas. I also accept that my skill sets are fledgling. But after my second rejection letter, I decided I needed to plot.
That effort has led me through a host of proven systems: Donald Maass -- too complicated for my first attempt. First Draft in 30 Days: ditto and we occasionally like to eat at the kitchen table. Hero's Journey: too heroic for my paltry capabilities. On-line classes: great, but too short to plot 80,000 words. 3 Act with Black Moment post-it-note grid: I am definitely deficient. Personal writing coach: Cheaper to abandon writing and stick to reading.
Something clicked during Break into Fiction: Mary Buckham and Dianna Love got through to me. I plotted the emotional journeys of my hero, heroine, antagonist, and mentor for my WIP, plus my two other first novels.
I have been reading Larry Brooks's blog about The Pantser's Guide to Story Planning. He asserts that pantsers plot, even if it is just for the next scene. He argues, convincing me, that the 4 contextual parts of a story--and the transitions between them--have to be followed to write a sellable character-based story.
He says the First Plot Point is the most important moment in the story. This is when the hero/heroine are first presented with the huge situation that changes their everyday world and "ignites their journey, need and quest, which is what the story is really about."
Re-outlining would be an excuse to postpone jumping into the water. I feel confident about my preliminary plotting, but I will keep his maxim front and center as I write my first act.