*clears throat* Please, remember this is my opinion and not written in stone.
Think of a plot as a house. It needs a foundation or it will crumble and it needs walls to hold it together. These are the bare bones of a building.
Each story needs a beginning.
Each story needs conflict.
Each story needs an end.
These three things combined are your foundation of your plot. (Beginning, Conflict, End.)
The walls of your story can change shape and size, just like real walls do. My house will be different from your house. Characters, Black Moment, Goals, Motivation, etc. are your story walls. These will move around with every story.
So, pantsers might think they’re not plotting (You know I’m talking about you. ;) ) when in fact they have a foundation and walls. They may not know how they’ll end the story but they know it has to end.
I’m a very visual person so I found this structure on the internet and modified it for my needs. I actually sketch this out prior to writing just to get an idea of where I’m going and use it to remember when I’ve forgotten. Nothing is built in stone. Just like a house, you can tear down a wall and build another one.
What is essential for a novel is that your conflicts are escalating otherwise your middle will sag and your reader might get bored. Hence, the stair case structure as a reminder. For an examples, I’ll use the movie Finding Nemo (we’ve both got small kids so I assume they’ve you seen this). Each conflict Marlin faces gets worse and worse. He meets Dory (a small conflict), they meet sharks, then they lose the mask and almost get eaten by an Angler fish, and then the biggest obstacle, the jelly fish where Dory almost dies.
The black moment, where your main character feels like it’s the end of the world and your reader is in tears, usually comes just before the ending. In Nemo the Black Moment is when Marlin thinks Nemo is dead and is swimming aimlessly in the Sydney bay.
Voila, bare bones plot but you’ve got a map and shouldn’t get lost. And if you do, well, just make another map.
Another thing I do before writing is do a small character outline. You can add to it as you develop your story. I usually do but at the beginning it makes you think a little harder about them. So I make a list of the main characters who will have a point of view in the book. Under each name I write down their GMCs. (Goals, Motivation, Conflicts.)
Let’s do Marlin since the movie is mostly in his POV.
Goal- To Find Nemo
Motivation- Nemo is his only child and he loves him.
Conflicts- A human stole him and needs to cross the ocean to find him.