During a conversation with my good friend Kris he mentioned that he believes that plot isn't that important to a good film. I think he may be on to something not just in regards to film but also to storytelling in general.
One of the easiest mistakes to fall into when constructing a story is to focus on the answer to the perceived important question, "what happens"?
The most important thing, I think, that happens in a story is that your protagonist changes or fails to change.
This leads to the two most common failures in all fiction. It leads authors to believe that things need to happen to their protagonist which can make their main characters incredibly passive. And also it can lead authors to believe the plot is more important than the emotion. Which can lead readers to think, "cool but why do I care"?
For what it's worth, and I'm sure I don't do this correctly at all. I think of the emotion first. My storys always come to me in this order:
1. Boy or Girl
2. Emotion (Eg. angry, happy, sad, confused)
3. Why? (high level version. Eg. Betrayal, love, money, something physical, something verbal)
4. Do I start with this or end with this?
And when I've got all of that in my head I start writing the character and the plot that it takes to get me to or from that place. Generally the single day short stories start with the emotion and explore that emotional moment. And the multi part short stories end with the moment of intensity.
But I tend to do all of this before I have even thought of who the character is. Before I've thought of the setting and so on.
I do think that this may well be the kind of thing that proves difficult for me when I write longer pieces. When I tackle something longer I tend to focus on the setting or plot idea because that's throughout. But I think that the short story grounding is probably right the character development is all. It just has to be more complicated character development if the book is longer. To an extent plot is the joke you give away which makes your book less interesting a second time round. Whereas character is the thing that keeps people coming back because there's always something new to learn and always something new to empathise with as your own condition changes.
The more important your plot is to your story the less lasting your story can be. The character development is the thing. Plot is basically irrelevant.