I'm coming up on the end of Sexton Sand. At this point, I know how it will end. Here's a look at how I plot my novels. I can give it to you in one phrase:
I'm writing a series, but I don't think that makes much difference in this example. I plotted Sexton this way, and the others that follow it. No, I don't use an outline.
I start with an idea. With books 2, 3, and 4 of the series the idea is usually around the time the previous one ended. It doesn't have to be that way. There are some series out there that have gaps of time between the end of one book and the beginning of the next.
I start with the idea, and then I write. I start looking at the word count when I get to the second hundred pages or so of my double-spaced manuscript. By then I have a vague idea of where I'm going with the thing. It's like driving toward mountains. You can see them in the distance, purple and hazy. Maybe there's a storm on top of one of them, maybe it's crystal clear...and maybe there's a curve in the road ahead that looks more interesting than the big rocks in the windshield.
So I pick one and aim for it. Around the time I hit 85,000 words (I like the word count feature of my word processor. It's like the odometer on the car), I have a pretty good idea of how I'm going to end the book.
Then I start driving that direction. Sometimes, once anyway, I change my mind. Then I backtrack and destroy the false turn, put the car in gear and move forward again.
I'm at 85,000 words in Sexton Sand. I know how the book will end. I've already designed the cover. It's going to take another 25,000 words or so to reach that stopping point, that little pause between books we'll call the end of Sexton Sand.
Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a helluva ride.